Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by
DAVID HILL RADCLIFFE

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities


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Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Front-matter
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson
Index
Corrections

Part  V:
WILLIAM FALCONER
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.63
WILLIAM FALCONER.

Thy woes, Arion! and thy simple tale,
O'er all the heart shall triumph and prevail.

1

William Falconer [note] was born at Edinburgh, according to some authorities, about the year 1730, and to others, 1735. His father was originally a barber and wig-maker, but afterwards kept a grocer's shop. He is said to have been another Partridge [note] for wit and humour; and, like most men whose minds are above their condition, lived poor, though admired. He had a large family, all of whom, with the single exception of William the poet, had the singular misfortune of being either deaf or dumb. What extent of education William received has never clearly appeared. All his former biographers say, it was a common education; but it seems more probable, that the afflicting dispensation of Providence, which spared his father the necessity of sending his other children to school, had enabled him, though in indigent circumstances, to bestow more than usual pains on his favoured child. In the character of Arion in the Shipwreck, which was evidently intended for his own, Falconer speaks of his early attainments in terms which afford strong support to this supposition.

While yet a stripling, oft, with fond alarms,
His bosom danc'd to Nature's boundless charms;
64LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
On him fair Science dawn'd in happier hour,
Awakening into bloom young fancy's flower;
But frowning fortune, with untimely blast,
The blossom wither'd and the dawn o'ercast.
2

The affairs of his father, which were never prosperous, fell into great derangement on the death of his wife, a woman whose prudent management had long averted the impending crisis; and while some of the more helpless members of the family found their way to the workhouse,* William went to sea.

“Forlorn of heart, and by severe decree,
Condemned reluctant to the faithless sea.”
3

He engaged as an apprentice on board a merchant vessel at Leith; and, at the conclusion of his term of service, was either impressed or entered voluntarily into the Royal Navy. The purser of the ship to which he belonged was Mr. Campbell, [note] the reputed author of Lexiphanes; and to him Falconer appears to have been assigned as a servant. Mr. Campbell speedily discovered indications of a genius, above the common order, in his attendant. According to Dr. Currie, [note] he delighted in improving the mind of the young seaman; and afterwards, when Falconer


* “Long after the commencement of my acquaintance with him,” says Captain Hunter, [note] “I met two of the family labouring under their infirmities in the poor-house at Edinburgh, where they continued until their death.”
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.65
had obtained celebrity, this early patron felt a pride in boasting, that he had once been his scholar.

4

With Mr. Campbell, however, Falconer could not have remained long, for through some turn of fortune, which cannot now be traced, we find him, in his eighteenth year, wandering about the port of Alexandria. Here he was engaged as second mate of the Britannia, a merchantman, bound for Venice. On the voyage a dreadful storm arose, and the vessel was wrecked near Cape Colonna, on the coast of Greece. Of the ship's company, Falconer and two others were the only persons who escaped a watery grave.

5

In 1751, Falconer revisited his native place, still nothing more than a humble sailor. On this occasion, he made his first appearance before the public as an author, by the publication of a poem, Sacred to the Memory of His Regal Highness Frederick Prince of Wales. It was but a poor performance, and scarcely evinced a glimpse of that poetical talent which Falconer afterwards displayed.

6

After some more years, which are supposed to have been spent in the merchant service, Falconer again went on board of a man of war. Fortune seemed here, for a time, to smile upon him. His talents attracted the notice of his superiors, and in 1757, he was promoted to the quarter deck of the Ramilies. While in this situation, he profited by the greater leisure which it afforded, to cultivate with assiduity his poetical powers; and, though the libraries of officers at sea are not often of the most choice description, the friendship of the poet's messmates must doubtless have supplied him with many books, which enriched his mind and gave expansion to his ideas.
66LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Many occasional poems which he wrote at this period were transmitted to that general repository of fugitive literature, the
Gentleman's Magazine. Mr. Clarke [note] has pointed out the following pieces as having been written by Falconer.—“On the uncommon Scarcity of Poetry in that publication, (the Gent. Mag.)” signed “J. W. a Sailor.” March, 1756. The difference between these initials and those of Falconer make his claim to this piece rather doubtful. “The Chaplain's Petition to the Lieutenants of the Ward Room,” 1758; “Verses addressed to a Lady, dated H. M. S. Ramilies, Bay of Biscay, 25th Nov. 1758;” “Description of a Ninety Gun Ship,” 1759. Mr. Clarke also gives to Falconer the credit of a little poem, entitled “the Midshipman,” descriptive of the humours of the orlop deck; and states some reasons for believing him to be the author of “Cease, rude Boreas,” and several other well known sea songs, which came into vogue about this period.

7

While thus writing himself into notice, Falconer had, a second time, the misfortune to suffer shipwreck. On the 5th of February, 1760, Admiral Boscawen, [note] in the Royal William, sailed from Plymouth Sound, with the Ramilies and five other sail of the line, to take the command of the fleet in Quiberon Bay. The wind soon after shifted to the westward, and increased to a violent gale, which dispersed the squadron. The Ramilies was so much shattered, that its commander, Captain Taylor, bore away for Plymouth. On the 15th, in coming up Channel, he discovered the Bolt-


* Clarke's edition of the Shipwreck.
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.67
head; but the weather being extremely thick and hazy he mistook it for the Ram-head, and stood on till the ship was so entangled with the shore, that it was impossible to weather it. Captain Taylor ordered the masts to be cut away, and came to an anchor; but the storm raged with such fury, that the cables parted, and the ship was driven on the breakers and dashed to pieces. The only persons saved, out of a crew of seven hundred and thirty-four men, were Falconer and twenty-five men, who escaped the melancholy fate of their companions by jumping from the stern to the rocks.

8

Falconer wrote some verses on this catastrophe, which appeared shortly after, under the title of “the Loss of the Ramilies,” in the Gentleman's Magazine.

9

For nearly two years subsequent to this period, his history is unknown. In whatever situation, or in whatever degree of comfort, they were spent, they must have been years of considerable leisure and meditation; for all at once, he burst from his obscurity with a poem, not only of the most finished description, but of such excellence, as to rank him among the most eminent bards of his country. This was the “Shipwreck, in three Cantos, by a Sailor,” first published by Millar [note] in 1762. It was dedicated to Edward duke of York, [note] brother of the king, who had then hoisted his flag as Rear Admiral of the Blue, on board the Princess Amelia of 80 guns, attached to the fleet under Sir Edward Hawke. [note]

10

The poem was preceded by the following appropriate motto:

———Quæ ipse miserrimma vidi,
Et quorum pars magna fui.
68LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
11

The Shipwreck, which he selected for his theme, the was that in which he had first been a sufferer on board the Britannia; and from this circumstance it has been inferred, that ever since that event he had been employed on the poem. The choice seems however, referable to reasons which, though they do not negative this inference, do not countenance it. Between the wreck of a first-rate British man of war and that of a small Levant trader, there could, in point of importance of subject, be no comparison; and when we consider besides, how much the public mind was affected at the time by the loss of the Ramilies, it may perhaps be thought, that Falconer missed an excellent opportunity of identifying his poetical powers with a catastrophe which a nation lamented. Let us attend, however, on the other hand, to the circumstance which might recommend the shipwreck of the inferior vessel to a poetical mind. The Britannia had been cast away on a classic shore; and an opportunity was thus afforded of dignifying and embellishing a narrative of sea adventure, with allusions to classic story, which in another situation would have been chargeable with affectation and conceit. The reflections, for example, which Falconer has in the following passage introduced with propriety, because the country where disaster happened was that of a Zeno, [note] an Epictetus [note] and a Socrates, [note] would, in the description of a wreck on the coast of Cornwall, or the Orkneys, have seemed not merely far-fetched, but verging on the ludicrous:

And now lash'd on by destiny severe,
With horror fraught, the dreadful scene drew near!
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.69
The ship hangs hovering on the verge of death,
Hell yawns, rocks rise, and breakers roar beneath!
In vain, alas! the sacred shades of yore
Would arm the mind with philosophic lore;
In vain they'd teach us, at the latest breath,
To smile serene amid the pangs of death.
Even Zeno's
[note] self, and Epictetus [note] old,
This fell abyss had shudder'd to behold.
Had Socrates, [note] for god-like virtue fam'd,
And wisest of the sons of men proclaim'd,
Beheld this scene of frenzy and distress,
His soul had trembl'd to its last recess, &c.
12

We have another reason for the preference which Falconer may have given to the shores of Greece, in the striking contrast which he has himself drawn between them and those of England, in respect to the treatment given to shipwrecked mariners. Albert, in addressing his men, alludes to the inhuman practice which then prevailed on some parts of the English coast, where a “lawless brood”

Oft wound to death the helpless plunder'd crew,
Who, 'scap'd from every horror of the main,
Implore their mercy, but implore in vain.
13

He then consoles them with the different prospect before them:

But dread not this; a crime to Greece unknown;
Such bloodhounds all her circling shores disown!
Her sons, by barbarous tyranny opprest,
Can share affliction with the wretch distrest:
Their hearts by cruel fate inur'd to grief,
Oft to the friendless stranger yield relief.
70LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
14

Every one must be sensible, that to lay the scene of his “Shipwreck,” where the sympathy excited for the wretched sufferers was sure not to be shocked by any revolting barbarity in our own species, was to evince the justest notion of the pathetic. The inhumanity of the English “wreckers” might serve well for contrast; but it would have made a tale of horrors too terrific, to have added, to the shipwreck of Arion and his companions, their destruction by merciless banditti.

15

While such considerations present themselves in favour of the scene where Falconer's poem is laid, it is hardly doing justice to his powers of discrimination to suppose, that the choice was merely the accidental consequence of the priority of his shipwreck on shores of Greece, to that on board of the Ramilies. It seems rather probable, that he proceeded by inverted order, and that his verses on the loss of Ramilies first gave the idea of the more extend poem on the loss of the Britannia. The tribute which he paid to the memory of the Prince of Wales, shews what were his poetical powers after his first misfortune; and, if we examine the Shipwreck by this test, it will be found, that there is scarcely a couplet in it which can be referred to so humble a level. It displays every where proofs of having been begun and ended during a far more advanced period of improvement, when he had acquired an astonishing mastery over the mechanism of versification, and was rich in ideas, the fruit of long experience and reflection. It is deserving too of observation, that in many places the story has evidently been indebted for circumstances that heighten its
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.71
interest to what the author could only have witnessed on board the Ramilies; and through it is possible that these may have been additions to a poem previously written, yet there is an air of original connectedness in the narrative, which by no means favours the supposition. The heaving the guns overboard is one very striking instance of that man-of-war experience which pervades the poem; nor could any thing but the latitude of poetical licence justify the introduction of such a circumstance into the description of a merchant vessel in distress.

16

The reception which the “Shipwreck” experienced from the public, was, in the highest degree, flattering to its author. It was universally hailed as an accession to English poetry. The Duke of York, [note] to whom it was inscribed, shared in the general admiration, and became desirous of seeing the author in a situation where he could befriend him. Falconer, assured of such distinguished patronage, was tempted to try once more his fortune at sea; and in the course of the summer of 1762, we find him, a second time, rated as a midshipman, on board the Royal George, which bore the flag of Sir Edward Hawke. [note]

17

The Duke of York, not long after, embarked on board the Centurion, Commodore Harrison, for the Mediterranean; and Falconer, to improve the hold he had gained on his esteem, published, on the occasion, an “Ode on the Duke of York's second departure from England as Rear Admiral.” Towards the conclusion of the poem, he thus gratefully acknowledges his Royal Highness's kindness to himself.

No happy son of wealth or fame,
To court a royal patron came:
72LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
A hapless youth, whose vital page
Was one sad lengthened tale of woe;
Where ruthless fate, impelling tides of rage,
Bade wave on wave in dire succession flow;
To glittering stars, and titled names unknown,
Preferr'd his suit to thee alone.
The tale your sacred pity mov'd,
You felt, consented, and approv'd.
18

Falconer, now finding, that by the rules of the service he must continue some years more as a midshipman, before he could, even with the royal interest, obtain any advancement, prudently resolved to transfer himself to the civil department of the navy, in order that he might the more speedily avail himself of the influence of his illustrious patron. On his wishes being stated to the duke, his Royal Highness immediately procured him the appointment of purser to the Glory frigate, of 32 guns.

19

About this period, he is supposed to have written “The Fond Lover, a ballad,” and an “Address to Miranda.” The latter has been praised by Ritson, [note] and as it is believed to have conveyed the sentiments of a real passion, it claims a place in the author's biography.

Address to Miranda.
The smiling plains, profusely gay,
Are dress'd in all the pride of May;
The birds on ev'ry spray above
To rapture wake the vocal grove.
But ah, Miranda! without thee
Nor spring, nor summer, smiles on me;
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.73
All lonely in the secret shade,
I mourn thy absence, charming maid!
O soft as love! as honour fair!
Serenely sweet as vernal air!
Come to my arms, for you alone
Can all my absence past atone.
O come! and to my bleeding heart
The sovereign balm of love impart;
Thy presence lasting joy shall bring,
And give the year, eternal spring!
20

His “Miranda” was a Miss Hicks, the daughter of the surgeon of Sheerness Dock Yard, whose hand he had now the happiness to receive in marriage. Mrs. Falconer is described, by those who knew her, to have been a lady of superior taste and abilities; and it is said to have been the lustre of her mind, rather than the charms of her person, which attracted and confirmed the affection of Arion.

21

At the piece of 1763, the Glory was laid up in ordinary at Chatham, and Falconer was on the point of bring driven to live on shore, on the small pittance of a purser's half pay, when the commissioner of the Dock Yard, a brother of the celebrated Jonas Hanway, [note] generously ordered the captain's cabin to be fitted up for his residence. In this characteristic place of retreat for a sailor poet, he was enabled, for a time, to enjoy all the luxury of literary pursuits, undisturbed by the din of the world, and free from many of its cares.

22

It was probably about this period, that Falconer spared a few months to pay a farewell visit to his na-
74LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
tive country. Dr. Irving,
[note] in an imperfect sketch which he published of Falconer's life in 1801, says, that “after the publication of the Shipwreck, he paid a final visit to Scotland;” but he does not specify the time more precisely. While on this visit, we are told, that “he resided for some time at the manse of Gladsmuir, which was then possessed by his illustrious kinsman, Dr. Robertson. [note] This great historian, whose father was the cousin-german of old Falconer, seems to have been proud to acknowledge his relationship to the ingenious self-taught poet.”

23

In 1764, Falconer presented the public with a new edition of his Shipwreck in 8vo. considerably improved and enlarged, containing upwards of a thousand additional lines.

24

In 1766, he availed himself of the political disputes which then agitated the nation, to evince his attachment to the government by entering the lists is its defence. He wrote “The Demagogue,” for the purpose of abusing Mr. Pitt, [note] afterwards Earl of Chatham, Wilkes, [note] Churchill, [note] and other party men of the day. The poem was called a satire, but the characters are rather reviled, than satirized. The sentiments of a production, which may have been dictated by an honest gratitude for favours received and continued to be enjoyed, demand, however, some exemption from severity of criticism. As a poem, it added nothing to his fame.

25

In the following year, he left his aquatic retirement on board the Glory, to assume the active duties of the pursership of the Swiftsure, an appointment to which his political zeal had perhaps, in some degree, contributed. He appears soon after, however,
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.75
to have fallen into difficulties which obliged him to take up his residence in the metropolis, and, as may be concluded, to abandon his situation in the Swiftsure. Here he lived, for some time, in very straitened circumstances, deriving his principal means of subsistence from writing in the
Critical Review, and other periodical publications. It is said, that the late Mr. John Murray, [note] of Fleet-street, offered to take him into partnership with him, in the bookselling business; but, for some reasons which have not been explained, the offer thus liberally made did not lead to so desirable a connection.

26

In 1769, he published “The Marine Dictionary,” a work which had occupied the chief part of his attention during his retirement at Chatham, but had not till now been completed. The idea of this compilation was first suggested to him by George Lewis Scott, Esq. [note] It has been always highly praised by naval men for its completeness and accuracy. In a complimentary letter which Falconer received from the celebrated Du Hamel, [note] who, besides his botanical works, distinguished himself by some writings on naval architecture, the writer speaks of “the Marine Dictionary” as supplying an absolute desideratum in naval literature. “Ce livre manquoit absolument.”

27

The publication of this valuable work appears to have recalled Falconer to the favorable considerations of the Admiralty Board. He was almost immediately after appointed purser to the Aurora frigate, which was appointed to carry out to India Messrs. Vansittart, Scrofron, and Forde, as supervisors of the affairs of the company; and he was also promised the office of private secretary to these gentlemen.

76LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
28

Before sailing for India, Falconer superintended the printing of a third edition of his “Shipwreck;” but in the agitation of mind, attendant on his approaching departure, he appears to have suffered it to pass through his hands in a very negligent state. Almost all the additions and alterations which he introduced into this edition were imperfections. Mr. Clarke [note] has since judiciously endeavoured, with the assistance of the first and second editions, to make the author correct himself, and has thus, in a great measure, succeeded in restoring the purity of original text.

29

The Aurora sailed from England on the 30th of September, 1769, and reached the Cape of Good Hope on the 27th of December following. Here the commander, Captain Lee, though a stranger to the difficult navigation of the Mozambique channel, expressed his intention of proceeding by that route to India. Mr. Vansittart [note] endeavoured, but in vain, to dissuade him from the attempt; and was so displeased with his obstinacy, that, if there had been an outward bound East Indiaman at the Cape, at the time, he declared he would have quitted the Aurora. The fears of this gentleman were but too well founded. After leaving the Cape, the Aurora was never seen more; and poor Falconer, by a characteristic fatality, perished by a similar infliction of Providence to that which it had been the pride of his muse to describe. It was for years supposed, that none of all who were on board had survived to tell the story of the loss; but on the 19th of November, 1773, a black made his appearance before the East India Directors, who affirmed, “that he was one of
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.77
five persons who had been saved from the wreck of the Aurora; that she had been cast away on a reef of rocks off Mocoa; that he was two years upon an island after he had escaped; and was, at length, miraculously preserved by a country ship happening to touch at that island.”

30

“In person,” says Mr. Clarke, Falconer was about five feet seven inches in height; of a thin light make, with a dark weather-beaten complexion, and rather what is termed hard featured, being considerably marked with the small pox; his hair was of a brownish hue. In point of address, his manner was blunt, awkward, and forbidding; but he spoke with great fluency; and his simple, yet impressive, diction was couched in words which reminded his hearers of the terseness of Swift. [note] Though he possessed a warm and friendly disposition, he was fond of controversy, and inclined to satire. His observation was keen and rapid; his criticisms on any inaccuracy of language or expression were frequently severe; yet this severity was always intended eventually to create mirth, and not, by any means, to shew his own superiority, or to give the smallest offence. In his natural temper, he was cheerful, and frequently used to amuse his messmates, by composing acrostics on their favourites, in which he particularly excelled.*


* How well he was beloved by his messmates, is agreeably exemplified in a passage of an interesting little work, entitled “The Journal of a Seaman, written in 1755,” and published by Mr. Murray [note] in 1815. “How often,” says the author, “have I
78LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
31

“As a professional man, he was a thorough seaman, and, like most of that profession, was kind, generous, and benevolent.”

32

His life had been too clouded by adversity to enable him to leave any provision for his widow; but having had no children, she was fortunately unincumbered with the cares of a family. After the fate of her husband became known, Mr. Cadell, [note] who published the Marine Dictionary, made her several liberal presents, in consideration of the extensive sale of that work. She afterwards retired to Bath, where she died.

33

The poetical reputation which Falconer enjoyed; while living, has not diminished, with the lapse of time, since his death; but it is by the “Shipwreck” alone, he continues to be known; all his other pieces being either forgotten or neglected. The hope of immortality which he ventures to express its the introduction to this poem, bids fair to be realized; his name, this

———tragic story, from the wave
Of dark oblivion, haply yet may save.

wished to have the associate of my youth, Bill Falconer, with me, to explore these beauties, and to record them in his sweet poetry; but alas! I parted with him in Old England, never perhaps to meet more in this world. His may be a happier lot. Led by a gentler star, he may pass through this busy scene with more ease and tranquillity than has been the portion of his humble friend, Penrose.” A. S.
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.79
34

Its popularity rests on grounds which no criticism will perhaps ever impair. It is the only poem, of length, in our language, which describes the wonders of that element on which our most glorious triumphs, as a people, have been achieved; the only piece of poetic painting, in which a brother, sister, mistress, wife, or friend, can trace a faithful delineation of the many hardships and perils to which thousands of our bravest sons are daily and hourly exposed. As Falconer himself has beautifully said, it was his lot to be the first who,

———in lamenting numbers o'er the Deep,
With conscious anguish, taught the harp to weep.
35

Nor is the subject of the Shipwreck merely original; it is treated with originality. “His Sunset, Midnight, Morning, &c.” it has been truly remarked, “are not such as have descended from poet to poet. He beheld these objects under circumstances in which it is the lot of few poets to be placed. His images cannot therefore be transferred or borrowed; they have an appropriation which most not be disturbed, nor can we trace them to any source but that of genuine poetry. Although we may suspect that he had studied the æneid, there are no marks of servile imitation; while he has the high merit of enriching English poetry by a new train of ideas, and conducting the imagination into an undiscovered country.”

36

The “Shipwreck” has yet higher claims to esteem as a work of utility. It is seldom, that poetry can lay claim to the merit of being so directly and extensively instructive as in the present instance. The people of
80LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Herefordshire would probably not have brewed better “cyder” than they do now, though Philips's
[note] poem, on that subject, had never been written; nor can “the Fleece” of Dyer [note] be supposed to have contributed much to the excellence of the woollen manufactures of Yorkshire; but either honorable men belie themselves, or the nautical knowledge displayed in the Shipwreck must have had an important share in improving the skill of our seamen, and consequently in extending and maintaining our empire over the ocean. Mr. Clarke, whose zeal for the reputation of the British Navy must exempt him from any suspicion of wishing to detract from its well earned fame, says, that the Shipwreck “is of inestimable value to this country, since it contains within itself the rudiments of navigation; if not sufficient to form a complete seaman, it may certainly be considered as the grammar of his professional science. I have heard many experienced officers declare, that the rules and maxims delivered in this poem, for the conduct of a ship in the most perilous emergency, form the best, indeed the only, opinions which a skilful mariner should adopt.” It is a curious fact, that Falconer, in his preface to the poem, confesses, that he was more tenacious of his reputation as a sailor than a poet; he probably felt, that to shew deficiency in what was the business of his life, might justify reproach, while to fail as poet could surprise no one who did justice to him as a sailor.

37

The chief fault which has been found with the “Shipwreck” is one arising almost necessarily out of the subject, and for which the interest and importance
POETS — WILLIAM FALCONER.81
of that subject ought, at all events, to atone. The sea-phrases in which it abounds are said to obscure the sense, and embarrass the reader. It is very probable, that such may be their effect with many readers, indolent ones especially; but to admit this as a well founded objection, would be, in other words, to say, that a poem about the sea ought to exclude all words which are used at sea, because those on land do not happen to understand them. Could it be shewn, that he might have been more sparing in the use of nautical phrases, without lessening the number of nautical precepts which the poem contains, there might have been some reason to question his taste; but, next to the skill with which he has softened the introduction of such phrases by an exquisite harmony of numbers, few things in the work are more remarkable, than the care with which he has avoided loading his diction with uncouth expressions, where the fancy merely was to he pleased, and not the judgement informed.

38

It is quite true, that in proportion as the poem is difficult to be understood by the general reader, its chance of readers is diminished; nor can any argument avert from the fame of Falconer this penalty for writing on a subject not equally familiar to all the world. But with all the limitations which may arise from this cause, there will still remain, among those acquainted with nautical affairs, and those interested in them, enough of readers of the Shipwreck to constitute an admiration, which the proudest of poets might envy.

R. F.