Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

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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



In the romantic ode by Collins [note] on the Superstitions of the Highlands, we meet with a singular instance of poetical prediction; it would seem as if the poet had superstitions he describes. He had not long before formed, at Winchester, an acquaintance with a Scottish licentiate, of the name of John Home, [note] who was then on a visit to England; and discovered in him so congenial a poetic spirit, that he not only dedicated to him his Ode on the Superstitions, but ventured, in the first stanza, thus to prefigure his future eminence:

Home, thou return'st from Thames, whose Naiads long
Have seen thee ling'ring, with a fond delay,
'Midst those soft friends, whose hearts, some future day,
Shall melt perhaps to hear thy tragic song.”

It is probable, that Home had communicated to Collins some specimens of his dramatic talent, although none of those which are before the public can be traced to so early a date. Home was, at this time, in his twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth year. He was born in the parish of Ancrum in Roxburghshire, in
1724; studied at Edinburgh, and was licensed to preach the gospel in 1747.


While at the university, Home formed one of a company of twenty students, who, on the interruption given to their studies by the rebellion of 1745, offered their services to act as volunteers with the royal forces; but, from a want of union or zeal, or of both, soon afterwards dispersed themselves. Mr. Home, however, whose patriotic ardour appears to have exceeded that of his companions, retained his arms, and marched with a detachment of the royal army to Falkirk. In the disgraceful route, for it cannot be called battle, which befel the king's army in that neighbourhood, Home was taken prisoner by the rebels, and sent to Doune Castle, on the borders of the Highlands. From this place, however, he, in a short time, contrived to effect his escape, and, on the restoration of tranquillity after the battle of Culloden, returned to the university, to complete his studies for the church. On entering into orders, his hopes did not probably extend beyond sitting down for life, the dull parson of some country parish; and in snatching from his supposed destiny the intermediate opportunity of paying a visit to England, he both gratified a natural desire of extending his knowledge of the world, and threw himself in the way of acquiring a degree of refinement which could not be expected amid the party feuds of the northern metropolis. When in London, there can be little doubt that he drank deeply of the pleasures of theatrical representation; and crude as his ideas of dramatic effect must have been from any thing he could, at that period, have seen in Scotland, they could not
fail to be wonderfully enlarged and corrected, by witnessing, with his own eyes, the performances of such masters of the art, as a Garrick,
[note] a Barry, [note] and others, who, at that period, shed so much lustre on the English stage. Had Mr. Home, the probationer, never visited England, it is probable, that Mr. Home, the parish minister, would never have committed what the church, to which he belonged, deemed so great a sin, that of writing one of the most beautiful dramatic productions in the English language.


In 1750, Mr. Home received a presentation to the church of Athelstaneford in East Lothian, on the demise of the Rev. Robert Blair the celebrated author of “The Grave.” From the quiet of this obscure retreat, he used frequently to resort to the capital, to enjoy the pleasures of enlightened society. Several of the most eminent men of that period had instituted a society in Edinburgh, for literary and philosophical disquisition, and of this Mr. Home became a distinguished member. Among his associates were Mr. Wedderburn, [note] afterwards Earl of Rosslyn and Lord High Chancellor of England; Ferguson, [note] Hume, [note] and Robertson, [note] the historians; and Dr. Blair, [note] the rhetorician and divine. The poetic fire with which a Collins had discovered Home to be so largely fraught, could not miss of being fanned into a flame by such society as this. A year or two had not elapsed, after his settlement at Athelstaneford, before Home had a tragedy already prepared, to try its fortune on the stage. It was called Agis, and founded on a passage of Lacedemonian history. With the manuscript in his pocket, Home stole off to London; but, to his great mortification, found, that he could
not prevail on the managers of the metropolitan theatre to discover either a good plot or good poetry in his production. Without suffering himself to he discouraged by the failure, he returned home, and resolved on making a second trial, by writing a new play, of which Scotland should be the scene, and a Scottish story the subject. When he had completed his labours, he paid another visit to London, and laid his new production before Mr. Garrick.
[note] But he had to sustain all the bitterness of a second refusal. Garrick thought the plot too simple and destitute of stage effect. The play, of which the English Roscius pronounced this sage opinion, was the Douglas, [note] simple, indeed, because natural in plot, but one of the most effective productions ever represented on the British stage. In all probability, Garrick, when he pronounced this opinion, had never read the piece; it is an opinion which has much the air of a theatrical state circular; it stands in need of no proof, for it is no more than saying, “I can't tell how it is, but it won't do.” When the absurdity of the criticism was afterwards demonstrated by the extraordinary success of the play, Garrick was as much mortified as the author could have been by its original rejection; and, throughout the remainder of his life, he candidly confessed, that no circumstance, in the course of his theatrical management, ever gave him so much chagrin as his refusal of Douglas.


Home went back to Scotland, not, as may be well supposed, without a strong feeling of disgust for English criticism and English liberality. Satisfied, however, in his own mind, by a dispassionate comparison
of his rejected production, with other pieces which had received the public approbation, that prejudice and not taste, had presided at the determination of his fate; fortified by the concurring sentiments of his literary friends; and conscious, at all events, that, if he could produce nothing better than
Douglas, every hope which he entertained of dramatic eminence must be at an end; he determined on making one of those experiments by which desperation sometimes consecrates to itself the gratitude of mankind. Of the state of public opinion in Scotland about this period, with respect to the stage, the following extract from Jackson's [note] History will furnish a striking picture.


“No man of substance would step forward to promote the erection of a fabric for the representation of profane pieces, excommunicated by the church and interdicted by law. Or could it have been possible to find a master-builder, hardy enough, in the face of the church's ban, to have encountered both the risk and the censure, which, by the erecting a building for the purpose of a theatre, he must have laid his account with, I scarcely think a journeyman could have been procured, bold enough to have handled a chissel or a hammer in forwarding the profane work; nor even to have erected a bench,
Where giggling girls and powder'd fops might sit,
And crowd the house for Satan's benefit.
Even the accommodation of a roof was looked upon by the wary landlord as too great a hazard, where the owner was assured by his enthusiastic pastors, that the devil would be personified beneath it, and that the whole would vanish away in a flash of fire.”


What then might be expected to be the opinion of the people of Scotland, with respect to a public representation of a piece, which was of a class not only proscribed by its faith, but written by a minister of that faith? The storm, which any attempt of the kind was sure to raise, nobody could be blind enough not to perceive; yet, for the sake of fame, loose boldly dared it all.


The only establishment in Edinburgh, at that period, for the performance of plays, was a small theatre in the Canongate, the property and management of which were in the hands of some liberal-minded gentlemen of the town, among whom were some members of the literary society to which Home belonged. He had, of course, no difficulty in procuring a trial at this theatre for the piece which Garrick [note] had rejected. Nothing could be more complete or flattering than its success; the nicest judges of dramatic merit joined with the throng in bestowing on it unqualified praise; and, for nearly a whole season, it continued to be performed to crowded houses.


The outcry which was raised, in the mean time, among the very religious part of the community, was extreme. Mr. Home and several of his clerical brethren having ventured to be present at the performance of the play, the circumstance soon got abroad, and it being considered a woeful aggravation of profanity, that a play, written by a clergyman, should have been witnessed by clergymen, the presbytery of Edinburgh summoned before it such of its members as had dared to be seen within the walls of the excommunicated fabric. The transgressors were publicly censored;
one was suspended pro tempore from his pastoral office; and circular letters were written to other presbyteries, recommending the most rigorous measures against all clergymen within their respective jurisdictions, as had presumed, or should presume, to be present at such profane spectacles.


The recommendation contained in this circular was promptly followed by the neighbouring presbyteries. The presbytery of Glasgow in particular, though none of its members were among the offenders, shewed great zeal on the occasion; making up in fictions, (arising of course from want of information,) for the want of real delinquents to contend with. In a series of resolutions which they promulgated on the subject, they first lamented “the melancholy but notour fact, that one, who is a minister of the church of Scotland, did himself write and compose a stage play, entitled the Tragedy of Douglas, [note] and got it to be acted in the theatre at Edinburgh; and that he, with several other ministers of the church, were present, and some of them oftener than once, at the acting of the said play before a numerous audience.” “Deeply affected with this new and strange appearance,” they proceeded to declare, that stage plays had “been looked upon by the Christian church in all ages and of all different communions, as extremely prejudicial to religion and morality;” although no fact could be more “notour” among those who knew any thing of the matter, than that plays, in modern Europe, originated with the Christian church, “the subjects being scriptural, the clergy the composers, the church the stage, and Sunday the time of exhibition;” and although it was a fact equally certain, thought less no-
torious, that the general assembly of the church of Scotland had, of old, expressly admitted of theatrical exhibitions, provided the subject were not scriptural. (Book of Discipline, p. 145, 161.) On this erroneous assumption, the reverend presbytery concluded, with recommending to the general assembly, to declare by a public act “their judgement against the entertainments of the theatre,” that “ministers and all others may be sensible that the church of Scotland will never protect her members in a practice (that of attending the theatre) unbecoming their character, and of such pernicious tendency to the great interests of religion, industry, and virtue.”


The presbytery of Haddington, to which Mr. Home himself belonged, sent him a citation to appear before it, to answer for the great scandal which he had been the means of bringing on the sacred order; and that of Dalkeith gave a similar summons to one of his must intimate friends and inveterate admirers, Mr. Carlyle of Inveresk. [note] Neither presbytery, however, proceeded to judgement, but referred the cases of both gentlemen to the general synod of Lothian and Tweedale. A want of form in the reference of Mr. Home's case caused it to be remitted back to the presbytery of Haddington; and on that of Mr. Carlyle alone, the synod were called to pronounce judgement. Mr. Home, on this occasion, shewed great spirit in defence of his persecuted friend. He attended in his place as a member of the synod, and spoke warmly in his vindication. He declared, that, if there were any fault, it lay not at the door of the accused, but at his own, with whom
the crime had originated; and concluded his observations in the words of the unfortunate Nisus:

“Adsum qui feci; in me convertite ferrum
Tantum infelicem minium delexit amicum.”
Virgil [note]
“Me, me, he cried, turn all your rage alone
On me; the fact confess'd, the fault my own;
His only crime (if friendship could offend)
Is too much love for his unhappy friend.”
Dryden [note]

The energy of this appeal is said to have made a sensible impression on the members of the synod, and to have had the effect of greatly mitigating the sentence which they were at first disposed to pass on Mr. Carlyle, on whom, next to Home himself, the wrath of the religious world was chiefly turned. They contented themselves with declaring “their high displeasure with Mr. Carlyle, for the step he had taken in going to the theatre, and strictly enjoined him to abstain therefrom in time coming.”


Mr. Home did not wait for the renewal of the proceedings against himself; but prudently resolved to abandon a church to the austerities of which he could not conform. On the fifth of June, 1757, he bade farewell to his parishioners, in a sermon which is said to have been so pathetic as to draw tears from the greater part of his audience; and two days after he gave in a formal resignation of his charge to the Presbytery of Haddington.


The only permanent effect of all this outcry is thus briefly, but truly, related by Hugo Arnot, [note] in his History of Edinburgh. “The public attention leading people to consult their own reason, in a good manner dissipated the prejudices which had hitherto subsisted against the stage.” The people of Scotland had long yielded implicit credence to the anathemas of their pastors against theatrical entertainments; but now that they saw these pastors differing among themselves on the subject, they were tempted, by an irresistible curiosity, to take a nearer view than they had yet done with their own eyes of the debateable ground; and discovering in it none of those streams of poison or death-distilling trees with which it had been represented to abound, they not only lost all the horror they used to entertain for this interdicted region, but acquired that strong yet chastened admiration of its many beauties, which they have ever since continued to display.*

* “It is worthy of remark, that on the whole the Scotch have no great fondness for the entertainment of the theatre. The novelty of the appearance of any very distinguished performer excites their attention for a short time, and produces crowded houses; but, in general, the theatre is little attended by genteel people in the middle ranks of society. It is chiefly supported in Edinburgh by young men, the junior practitioners of the law, and students at the university, and by the families of country gentlemen, who reside in Edinburgh during the winter, who go thither occasionally as to a place where they are to display themselves, and to see other persons of their

Mr. Home now repaired to that great mart of talent, London, where the merits of his Douglas [note] had, by this time, acquired him a high reputation. In three months after its first appearance at Edinburgh, it had been brought forward on the London stage by Garrick, [note] who showed every anxiety to repair the mistake he committed in originally rejecting it; and after some slight hesitation on the part of the public, arising, no doubt, from over-excited hopes, its excellence was universally acknowledged, and it became, what it has ever since remained, one of the most attractive stock-pieces of the British drama.


Among the individual tributes paid to the merits of Home about this period, two are particularly deserving of remembrance. One was from David Hume, [note] who dedicated to him his “Four Dissertations,” and complimented him on possessing “the true theatric genius of Shakespeare [note] and Otway, [note] refined from the unhappy barbarism of the one, and licentiousness of the other:”—An overstrained compliment certainly, yet saving that unhappiest of all unhappy phrases, the “unhappy barbarism” of

own rank. Neither does this indifference to the theatre among the Scottish nation any longer result from religious opinions or prejudices. Sober families find more pleasure in domestic society, or in the visits of their acquaintances; and when money is to be expended, the social and more substantial pleasure of giving and receiving good suppers or dinners is greatly preferred.” Forsyth. [note]
Shakespeare, just and discriminating in the main.* The other tribute was from Mr. Sheridan,
[note] then manager of the Dublin Theatre, and father of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, [note] who sent over to Mr. Home a gold medal, of ten guineas value, on which was an inscription, acknowledging his singular merit on having enriched the English stage with the tragedy of Douglas.


After the extraordinary success which had attended Mr. Home on his first adventure, neither public expectation nor his own ambition would probably have been satisfied, had he not hastened to repeat his court to the tragic muse; and yet it is a certain, though mortifying fact, that it would have been well for his fame, had he tempted fortune no farther. From 1757 to 1778 he went on producing, on the London stage, one unsuccessful tragedy after another; “Agis,” his first piece; “The Siege of Aquileia,” “The Fatal Discovery,” “Alonzo,” and “Alfred.” Garrick wrote prologues to some of them and epilogues to others, and warmly interested himself in their fate, but none of them had even a temporary success. It must be confessed, indeed, that they are all greatly inferior to his Douglas; and we are left to wonder, without even a speculative means of explaining, how

* After such a compliment, from so acute a critic as Mr. David Hume, [note] some indulgence is due to the inferior orders of his countrymen in London, who, on the first representation of Douglas at Drury lane, called out from the galleries, at the conclusion of every round of applause, “aye, aye, what d'ye think o' ye're Willie Shakespeare [note] now?” A. S.
the genius, which formed so noble a masterpiece, could have been so strangely abortive in every succeding attempt.


While running this career of failure on the stage, Mr. Home had, however, formed friendships, from which, if worldly advantages could compensate for blighted fame, he might have derived ample consolation. The celebrated Lord Bute [note] honored him with his esteem, and after the accession of George the Third, [note] took an early opportunity of bringing the merits of the author of Douglas under the royal notice; when his Majesty was graciously pleased to place him on the civil list for a handsome pension. Through the same influence, he was subsequently appointed to be one of the Commissioners of Sick and Wounded Seamen, and Conservator of Scotch Privileges, at Campvere, in Zealand.


With his Alfred, which lived only three nights, Mr. Home hopelessly took leave of the stage and retired to Scotland, where he spent the remainder of his days. Soon after his return, the Duke of Buccleugh [note] raised a regiment of fencibles, in which Mr. Home accepted of a Captain's Commission, which he held till the disbandment of the corps on the succeeding peace.


Home's literary leisure was now understood to be employed in the preparation of a History of the Rebellion of 1745, to which his personal share in the contest was expected to give more than ordinary interest. A long time elapsed before the curiosity of the public was gratified; the work did not make its appearance till 1802, when he was in the seventy-eighth year of his age; and, strange to tell, its fate
was the same as that of all his later poetical productions. It universally disappointed expectation. It contained some facts, particularly in regard to the escape of the Pretender,
[note] which were before little or imperfectly known; but was, on the whole, a meagre and uninteresting performance. If general report may he credited, he was prevented by government influence from making a free use of his materials.*


As his life drew near its close, Mr. Home experienced a great decay both of his mental and bodily powers. He long retained strength sufficient to walk out for some time every day, but seemed insensible to all that was passing around him, and to possess little more than mere existence. After lingering in this state for several years, he at last expired at Merchiston House, near Edinburgh, on the 4th September, 1808, at the advanced age of 85.


The literary fame of Home must now be allowed to rest wholly on his Douglas; [note] but as long as a taste for the genuine drama exists, his fame stands in need of no stabler monument. The undiminished popularity which it has so long enjoyed is the best possible proof of its excellence. The people have made it, as it were, their own; they have enriched their familiar language with its felicities of expression, and habitually illustrate their thoughts by the admirable passages with which it abounds. Whenever as much can be said for any work, criticism may spare itself

* It has been lately affirmed, that every sheet of the work underwent royal supervision, and that, besides much being on this account not written, much was suppressed. A. S.
the trouble of demonstrating how it is we admire. It is by being thus mixed up with the minds of a people that real immortality is ever to be best recognized, and that even a Home, though probably in the estimation of the learned far inferior to a Milton,
[note] has many chances of outliving him. Milton, in fact, may be said to owe his fame to the critics, and as they have redeemed it from a long obscurity, so it is to be hoped they will preserve it; for certain it is, that for every one of the people who can rehearse a single passage of his epics, there are twenty who would think it a shame not to be ranked among his admirers, and yet really know as little about these, his masterpieces, as they do of any work they never heard of. The cause is not want of taste but want of attraction; and of this we need no better proof than that, of the very same twenty who know nothing of the Paradise Lost, not one, perhaps, will be found who has not some vivid recollections of the beauties of the Allegro or Penseroso. The voice of the multitude may not always be the surest test of merit; but the voice of the multitude from age to age is that, at least, which all ambition sighs after, and which, at some far distant day, may make even John Gilpin owe more to the pen of a Cowper, [note] than Satan and all the fallen host owe to the towering genius of Milton.


When a few bigots took offence at the favourable reception which the great body of the people, obeying the natural impulse of their feelings, gave to the play of Douglas, they made a great effort in vindication of their hostility, to shew that the elegance of diction, the prevailing truth of sentiment, and the affecting simplicity of story, by which it is distinguished, are
only so many blandishments to conceal the final tendency of the catastrophe, which, as they were leased to assert, amounts to nothing less than a direct encouragement to suicide. The accusation, it will be perceived, had allusion to the fate of Lady Randolph. *

She ran, she flew like lightning up the hill:
Nor halted till the precipice she gain'd,
Beneath whose low'ring top the river falls
Ingulph'd in rifted rocks: thither she came,
As fearless as the eagle lights upon it:
Oh! had you seen her last despairing look!
Upon the brink she stood, and cast her eyes
Down on the deep: then, lifting up her head
And her white hands to heav'n, seeming to say,
Why am I forc'd to this? she plung'd herself
Into the empty air.

But because the heroine of the piece thus woefully perished the victim of misconduct and despair, does it follow that others are recommended to go and do so likewise? As well might the reverend authors of the objection have accused the scriptures of encouraging suicide, by recording how Saul “took a sword and fell upon it.” The manifest object of Home, in the story of Douglas, was to shew the natural consequences of a deviation from truth.

* The name was originally Lady Barnard, but changed to Randolph on the first representation of the play in London. A. S.
——— sincerity,
Thou first of virtues, let no mortal leave
Thy onward path! although the world should gape,
And from the gulph of hell, Destruction cry
To take Dissimulation's winding way.
*    *    *    *    *    *
*    *    *    This moral learn,
This precious moral from my tragic tale.

Lady Randolph, in a moment of conflicting apprehensions, takes “an oath equivocal;” she swears not to commit what she had already committed; she is already married to Douglas, when she vows to her father that she will never “wed one of Douglas name.” This concealment she is driven to follow up with another, that of the birth of her son; and though this son is miraculously saved from the flood, and after being long given up for lost, is happily restored to the arms of his parent, yet from the mystery in which the connection of the mother and child is still obliged to be kept, he prematurely falls by the machinations of a villain. Could any succession of events be more natural or more moral? Could any thing exemplify more strongly the danger of a departure from the line of truth and filial duty, or more enforce on the virtuously inclined the wholesome precept, that

———the first truth
Is easiest to avow?

It was farther alleged, in the course of the proceedings instituted by the Edinburgh Presbytery against Mr. Home and other ministers, who attended the re-
presentation of the play, that it contained several blasphemous expressions and incidents. It appeared in proof, by depositions laid before the Presbytery, that a player, in the character of the Shepherd, swore
“By him that died on the accursed tree;”
That another, in that of Glenalvon, said:
“No, priest! No, priest! I'll risk eternal fire!”
And that a third, in that of Lady Randolph, kneeled down and put up some prayers.


The expressions quoted were not, perhaps, free from censure; and the author, feeling so, suppressed them after the first night's performance; nor did they ever, it is believed, appear in any printed edition of the tragedy. With respect to the kneeling and praying of Lady Randolph, the fault, if it be one, still remains. But such a fault! Let those who have heard this sublime apostrophe ejaculated by a Siddons, [note] who have witnessed the attitude of devout supplication, in which she threw herself on her knees before the Divinity, say what the emotions were with which it filled their bosoms! If ever a holy awe was diffused from the lips of mortal being, it was by Mrs. Siddons in this scene. The prayer is a prayer for all mothers of an illustrious race, nor can the present notice be concluded with any extract which could better exemplify that dignified simplicity which may be said to form the master feature of Home's dramatic style.

Oh! thou all-righteous and eternal King!
Who Father of the fatherless art call'd,
Protect my son! Thy inspiration, Lord!
Hath fill'd his bosom with that sacred fire,
Which in the breasts of his forefathers burn'd:
Set him on high, like them, that he may shine
The star and glory of his native land;
Then let the minister of death descend,
And bear my willing spirit to its place.
T. C.