Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

*    *    *    *    *

Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
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.)
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.)
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.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
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.)
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



James Grainger [note] was born at Dunse, in Berwickshire, in the year 1724. He was of English descent, but by education as well as birth a Scotsman. He was the son of John Grainger, Esq., once of Houghton Hall, in the county of Cumberland; but who, in consequence of some unsuccessful speculations in mining, was obliged to sell his estate and retire into Scotland, where he obtained an employment in the Excise, and was stationed at Dunse when the poet was born. He lost his father early, but, through the generous care of an elder brother, who had established himself as a writing master in Edinburgh, he received such an education, as qualified him to be afterwards bound an apprentice to Mr. George Lauder, surgeon, in Edinburgh. At the conclusion of his apprenticeship, he completed his medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, and, when but in his twenty-first year, was so fortunate as to obtain the appointment of Surgeon to Pulteney's Regiment of Foot. With this corps he shared in some active service during the rebellion of 1745, and went afterwards to Germany, where it was found easier to gather laurels than on the plains of Falkirk. At the Peace of Aix la Chapelle, in 1748, Mr. Grainger quitted the army, and after obtaining, probably at Edinburgh, the degree of Doctor of Physic, came to London.


Neither his services nor his titles appear, however, to have sufficed, to exempt him from that probationary
obscurity and hardship common to all adventurers. If we may believe
Smollet,* he was reduced to the necessity of working for bread in the lowest employments of literature and at the lowest prices. His first attempt to attract notice in his own name, was in the year 1753, when he published a volume, written in Latin, entitled, “Historia Febris anomalæ, Batavæ, annorum 1746, 1747, 1748,” &c.; but Sir John Pringle, [note] in his celebrated “Observations on the Diseases of the Army,” published a short time before, had so fully anticipated the subject, that Dr. Grainger's book, though able, was neglected. His next appearance was more fortunate. To Dodsley's [note] Collection, published in 1755, he contributed “An Ode on Solitude,” which pleased alike the critics and the public, and procured him immediate admission to a degree among that distinguished brotherhood of wits, poets, and philosophers, over which Dr. Johnson [note] was in the habit of presiding.


Shortly after, Dr. Grainger accepted of the situation of tutor to a young gentleman of fortune: how long he remained in it does not appear, but he is said to have given such satisfaction, that his pupil, at parting, settled upon him an annuity for life.


In 1753, he again offered himself to notice as a poet, by a translation of the Elegies of Tibullus, [note] and of the Poems of Sulpitia, [note] accompanied with the original texts and notes, critical and explanatory, in two volumes, 12mo. This work was immediately attacked in the Critical Review, then under the direction of Dr. Smollet, with an acrimonious severity very foreign

* Critical Review.
to the spirit of genuine criticism. The translation was abused as inaccurate, harsh, and inelegant; full of uncouth words and distorted images; and the notes were styled a “huge farrago of learned lumber jumbled together to very little purpose, seemingly calculated to display the translator's reading, rather than to illustrate the sense and beauty of the original.” All the faults and blemishes of the work were, with invidious industry, collected together, and presented as exemplifying its general character, while the beauties which predominated, and which have been since so fully recognized by the public, were studiously concealed. Dr. Grainger, honestly indignant at such treatment, instantly wrote a vindicatory
“Letter to Tobias Smollet, M.D., occasioned by his criticism on a late Translation of Tibullus.” In this he exposed, with success, the plan of malicious distortion, to which he was attempted to be made the victim, and, had he been content to stop here, his triumph would, perhaps, have been complete; but pushed on by his resentment, he endeavoured to retaliate on Dr. Smollet, by many coarse reflections no his personal character, and on the moral tendency of his novels. Dr. Smollet was not a man likely to shrink from such an encounter; but, glad, on the contrary, to find the question shifted from his criticism to himself, he replied to Dr. Grainger in a similar strain of personality, and said all he could to lower him in the eyes of the public, both as a man and as a writer. In a coarse notice, by which this reply was heralded in the Review, we are let into some part, though probably not the whole, of the secret of Smollet's original animosity to Grainger. “Whereas,” he says, “one of the owls belonging to the proprietor of the M. R. (Monthly
Review) which answers to the name of Grainger, hath suddenly broke from his mew, where he used to hoot in darkness and peace, and now screeches openly in the face of day, we shall take the first opportunity to chastise this troublesome owl, and drive him hack to his original obscurity*.” The
Critical Review, it is well known, was set up as a rival to the Monthly, and, while under the direction of Dr. Smollet, was remarkable for nothing so much as the personal abuse in which it indulged against the proprietor of the Monthly Review, and all who were supposed to be in any way connected with it. To be a writer in the Monthly, which Dr. Grainger appears to have been, was therefore enough to secure condemnation from the Critical. But Smollet had a farther motive to revenge. He had suffered as an author from the lash of the Monthly, and he appears to have thought, that in Grainger he had discovered his flagellater; “the owl” who “used to hoot in darkness and peace.” How far he was right in his conjecture is uncertain, and the means of determining are not before the public. It has, indeed, been doubted, whether Grainger wrote at all in the Monthly; but Smollet was too conversant in the literary history of his times to make it likely, that he should be so completely mistaken in this respect.


If we except the injury done to his feelings, Grainger may he said, upon the whole, to have come out of the contest unharmed. The habitual prejudices

* “Where the owl still hooting sits” is a line in the “Ode to Solitude.” It probably gave Smollet the idea of this poor attempt at wit. A. S.
of Smollet had become too notorious to make his of opinions much regarded; and the personal hostility, remarkably manifested in the care of Grainger, only tended to excite a more than ordinary interest in favour of its object. Notwithstanding all the censures of the
Critical Review, the Translation of Tibullus and Sulpitia was read and admired; and, to the present day, continues to be regarded as an elegant and pleasing performance.


One important exception, indeed, which escaped the critical malignity of Smollet, has since suggested itself to the dispassionate observation of another writer, Mr. Elton, [note] who, in his Specimens of the Classic poets, makes the following judicious remarks on that part of Dr. Granger's work, which he has been pleased to style, “the Poems of Sulpitia.


“ Sulpitia [note] was a noble matron of Rome, singularly eminent as a poetess. She was the first, according to her own testimony, who set her countrywomen the example of contesting the palm of genius with the poetesses of Greece. She must have alluded to her lyrical compositions, as, that there were Roman women who, before her, had excelled in general poetry, appears from the instance of Cornificia, in the age of Augustus, whose poems are lost. Sulpitia composed certain “Lusus,” or Fugitive Pieces in lyric measure, and on subjects of love, addressed to her husband, Calenus. They are eulogized with elaborate gallantry by Martial.

Let all those maids, Sulpitia's lays peruse,
Who for one only youth have sigh'd;
Let all these husbands read Sulpitia's muse,
Who seek to please one only bride.
Not of the Colchian princes' rage she sings,
Nor Atreus' feast, with blood imbrued;
Scylla and Byblis are forgotten things,
No fab'lous themes her ear delude.
She teaches loves, affectionate and chaste;
Delights and sports, and railleries:
No lays would seem with looser sallies grac'd,
Yet none more virtuously wise.
Such pleasantries, Egeria might impart
To Numa's ear in dripping cell
Hadst thou, Oh, Sappho! learn'd with her thy art,
Or she, thy mistress, tun'd the shell.
More subtle were thy genius, chaste thy fame,
And if together seen with thee,
The rigorous Phaon had confess'd a flame,
And to Sulpitia bow'd the knee.
Yet had enamour'd Phaon vainly sigh'd;
She not to JOVE would yield her charms;
Nor live, e'en Bacchus or Apollo's bride,
Torn from her own Calenus' arms.

“Martial [note] was not the best possible judge of what is delicate in sentiment; and there is reason to suspect, that the chastity of Sulpitia's productions consisted in the single circumstance, that her husband was the subject of them. The old scholiast on Juvenal [note] has preserved a fragment of Sulpitia, allusive to Calenus; it consists of only two lines, but these, unfortunately for the epigrammatist, are of a wanton complexion. That her writings were free, may be
deduced also from the testimony of Ausonius [note] in his “Nuptial Cento,” where, in defending his licentiousness by the common sophism, that the verse and the life of the writer are at variance, he pleads, among other examples, that “the pieces of Sulpitia are prurient, but her forehead had the frown of chastity.”


“From the conjectural judgement that might he formed of Sulpitia, as a lively, beautiful, and fascinating lady, the theme of Roman gallantry and fashionable admiration, in an age not remarkable for the strictness either of public or private morals, and from the scrap of her poetry above alluded to, it should appear, that the mere circumstance of a libertine gaiety in the sentiments, offers no objection why those poems, in the book of Elegies, printed as the fourth of Tibullus, [note] of which several assume to be the composition of Sulpitia, should not be hers. But there are marks of their being, if not the production of Tibullus himself, at least, the compositions of a Sulpitia, who lived in the Augustan age. The name of Messala occurs more than once; the favourite of this Sulpitia is a youth, called Cerinthus, and it happens, oddly enough, that Tibullus, in one of his undisputed elegies, addresses a Cerinthus; and that Horace [note] alludes to a youth of the same name, in illustration of personal beauty. Yet on the clumsy supposition, that there might have been another Messala in the time of Domitian, and another Cerinthus, also beautiful, and a youth, Dr. Grainger, the elegant translator of Tibullus, boldly isolates the whole fourth Book of Tibullian elegies, and inscribes it, “Poems of Sulpitia,” which are ushered in by a glowing panegyric on her own person. I have no
doubt, that the other pieces, assuming to be by the same Sulpitia, are from the hand of the author of her panegyric, and the names of Messala and Cerinthus form a coincidence sufficiently strong to justify the belief, that the author was Tibullus. The assumption of another's name is a common poetic fiction. The supposed inferiority of this fourth book seems to me a refinement of hypercriticism; nor is it so surprising, that an author should be inferior to himself. Some farther light is thrown upon this question of the lady's identity, by a jealous epigram addressed to Cerinthus:

Sulpitia, Servius' daughter, needs must prove
Less worthy of Cerinthus' love,
Than the poor wench with basket on her arm,
Whose harlot gown is now his charm.”

“Now Servius Sulpitius is the name of the orator and lawyer, the friend of Cicero. [note] This Sulpitia therefore is not the poetess of the age of Domitian.”


Shortly after the publication of Tibullus, Dr. Grainger was induced, by assurances of an advantageous settlement in his medical capacity, to go out to the island of St. Christopher's. While on his voyage, a lady on board of a merchantman, which was in company, and bound for the same island, fell ill of the small pox. Dr. Grainger, hearing of the circumstance, tendered his professional services, and, for the greater convenience and security of his patient, agreed to take the remainder of his passage in the same vessel. He prescribed with success, and to enhance the importance of the cure to his professional
prospects, his patient proved to be the wife of the Governor of St. Christopher's (Matthew William Burt, Esq.)
[note] Nor was this all the good fortune arising out of the incident. Mrs. Burt was accompanied by an interesting daughter, to whose esteem Dr. Grainger so recommended himself while attending on the mother, that, shortly after their arrival at St. Christopher's, he received her hand in marriage. By this he became related not only to the governor, but to many of the principal families of the island, and was thus enabled to commence practice as a physician, with the most flattering opportunities of success.


At the peace of 1763, Dr. Grainger returned for a short time to England. He brought along with him a poem which he had written in the West Indies, and which West Indian scenes had inspired, intitled “The Sugar Cane.” He submitted it to the judgement of his various literary friends in London, from whom he received such meed of approbation as encouraged him to publish it in a handsome quarto volume, in 1764.


Mr. Boswell, in his life of Johnson, informs us, that when the Sugar Cane “was read in manuscript at Sir Joshua Reynolds', [note] the assembled wits burst out into a laugh, when, after much blank-verse pomp, the poet began a new paragraph thus—
Now, Muse! let's sing of rats:
and what increased the ridicule was, that one of the company, who slyly overlooked the reader, perceived that the word had originally been mice, and had been altered to rats as more dignified.” “This passage,” adds Boswell, “does not appear in the printed work;
Dr. Grainger, or some of his friends, it should seem having become sensible that introducing even rats in a grave poem might be liable to banter.” He, however, could not bring himself to relinquish the idea, for they are thus, in a still more ludicrous manner, paraphrastically exhibited in his poem as it now stands.

“Nor with less waste the whisker'd vermin race,
A countless clan, despoil the lowland cane.”

Dr. Percy, [note] however, has considerably altered the complexion of the story by the following explanation: “The passage in question was not originally liable to such a perversion, for the author, having occasion in that part of his work to mention the havoc made by rats and mice, had introduced the subject in a kind of mock heroic, and a parody of Homer's battle of the frogs and mice, invoking the muse of the old Grecian Bard in an elegant and well turned manner. In that state I had seen it, but afterwards, unknown to me and other friends, he had been persuaded, contrary to his better judgement, to alter it so as to produce the unlucky effect above-mentioned.”


While in England at this time, Dr. Grainger also furnished Dr. Percy with the beautiful ballad of “Bryan and Pereene,” which appeared in the first volume of the Reliques of English Poetry. [note] It was founded on a real fact which happened in the island of St. Christopher's.


“An Essay,” which appeared in 1764, “on the more common West India diseases, and the remedies which that country itself produces; to which are added some hints on the management of negroes, ” was likewise written by Dr. Grainger, though printed
without his name. It is chiefly made up of the notes on his
“Sugar Cane,” and it was, no doubt, with the view of presenting them in a form more likely to attract the attention of medical men, that he was at the trouble of a separate publication.


Dr. Grainger returned to St. Christopher's in 1765, and resumed his practice as a physician with great success; but while in the midst of his career, and rapidly multiplying friends and fortune, he was cut off by one of those epidemic fevers common to the West India islands. He died at Basseterre, on the 16th December, 1767, in the forty-third year of his age.


The personal as well as literary character of Dr. Grainger appears to have stood high in the estimation of all who were most intimately acquainted with him; and among those, as we have seen, he had the happiness to number many of the ablest and most virtuous men of his time. “He was not only,” says Dr. Percy, [note] “a man of genius and learning, but had many excellent virtues, being one of the most generous, friendly, and benevolent, men I ever knew.” Dr. Johnson, [note] with more brevity, but perhaps equal comprehensiveness, says, that “he was an agreeable man who would do any good that was in his power.”


As a poet, Dr. Grainger has probably always had his full measure of praise. The “Sugar Cane, ” which is the largest of his productions, is as remarkable for its defects as its beauties. “While the imagination,” as Dr. Anderson, [note] in the latest edition of his works, [note] remarks, “is indulged to the highest pitch of luxury” by some beautiful sketches of tropical scenery, and by pictures of grandeur which a tropical region only can supply, such as the earthquake and the hurricane;
it must be allowed, on the other hand, that the good taste of the reader has, in no ordinary degree, cause be offended with the meanness of a great many of the topics introduced; the technical minuteness, so peculiarly foreign to the spirit of poetry, with which others are treated of, such as the cultivation of the cane, the preparation of sugar, &c.; and even the loathsomeness of not a few things about “the management of negroes.” It has been said, that such are the faults of his subject; but those who offer this apology forget, that other subjects quite as unfavorable have been poetically descanted upon, and no such faults committed. Armstrong, in his “Art of Preserving Health,” had a far greater number of revolting topics to encounter, than ever lay in the way of Grainger; and yet, such have been his judgement and skill, that he has produced a poem which has not one offensive or mean thing in it from the beginning to the end.


The “Ode on Solitude,” though a minor production, has every chance of being remembered by the lovers of poetry, when the “Sugar Cane” is known only to the learned in indexes. It is an imitation of Milton's [note] Allegro and Penseroso, but a successful one. A variety of delightful images are brought, in rapid succession, before the mind, in versification at once vigorous and harmonious. In some instances, the cadences are skilfully expressive; as when he says,

But, when mid-day fervors glow,
To upland airy shades you go,
Where never sun-burnt woodman came,
Nor sportsman chas'd the timid game,
And there beneath an oak, reclin'd,
With drowsy waterfalls behind,
You sink to rest.
Till the tuneful bird of night,
From the neighb'ring poplar's height,
Wake you with her solemn strain,
And teach pleas'd echo to complain.

And again:

Anguish left the pathless wild,
Grim-fac'd Melancholy smil'd;
Drowsy Midnight ceas'd to yawn,
The starry host put back the dawn;
Aside their harps ev'n Seraphs flung,
To hear thy sweet complaint, O Young!

Beside the pieces which have been mentioned, Dr. Anderson's edition of Grainger's works contains, “Translations from Ovid's Heroic Epistles,” and a “Fragment of the Fate of Capua, a tragedy,” first printed by Dr. Anderson, from the author's MSS.

W. A.