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





Sir Robert Kerr, [note] afterwards Earl of Ancram, was descended from Sir Andrew Kerr, of Fernyhirst, in Roxburghshire, and was the direct male lineal ancestor of the present Lothian family. He was one of the ordinary gentlemen of the chamber, who attended James the First into England on his accession to the English throne; but must not be confounded with another Sir Robert Kerr, [note] also follower of the same prince, who afterwards gave such infamous celebrity to the title of Somerset. In 1611, he appears to have been employed to transact some affairs for his majesty in Scotland. Dr. Birch [note] has printed, from the Harleian MSS., a letter written by Sir Robert Kerr, while on this mission, to Prince Henry's secretary, Mr.
Newton, [note] in which he thus bespeaks that gentleman's good offices with the young prince: [note] —“If it please his highness to keep an ear to me, at my upcoming, I shall render an account of every point that can be laid to my charge: and in the mean time, that out of his gracious favour he will he pleased to secure me against any that shall hinder my good about the king's majesty, and allow any favour the king will bestow upon me; since I am one of the first of his highness's servants that his majesty has employed in this kingdom, as I shall press to be worthy of his princely favour, and of the place I have about him, which I reckon more nor any thing in this world.” In 1619 he became involved, either through family connection or friendship, in a violent quarrel, which arose between the Maxwells and Johnstons, respecting the wardenship of the Western Marches, and received a challenge from Charles Maxwell to meet him in single combat. Although, at the time, he had scarcely recovered from a long illness, yet, consulting his honour rather than his safety, he agreed to the meeting. It required all the strength and dexterity he could muster to sustain the onset of his antagonist, a bold and impetuous man; but, at length, preparing his arm already fatigued, for a more effective attack, when Maxwell, rushing upon him with redoubled fury, aimed a blow at his breast, he run him through the body. Having now closed, they both fell; Maxwell was uppermost, but in a few moments he breathed his last, leaving Kerr covered with his blood. The relations of Maxwell accused Kerr of murder, and he was brought to trial for the offence at Cambridge, but acquitted. The king, however, thought proper to
shew his displeasure at the affray, by banishing Kerr from court. He now passed over to the Continent, where he amused himself for some time in visiting the different schools of art, and making a collection of the works of the first masters. Through the intercession of some of the nobility, he was at length recalled from exile, and restored to the situation of a gentleman of the bed-chamber. With Prince Charles, [note] afterwards Charles I., he became a great favourite; and when we recollect what Lord Clarendon [note] says of that prince, “that he saw and observed men long before he received them about his person,” and that whatever may have been his public failings, he was eminent for every quality which adorns the sphere of private life, his esteem may be safely regarded as a proof of no ordinary merit in its object. From Vertue, [note] we learn that Sir Robert made a present to the prince of the paintings which he had collected abroad; and this circumstance might have fortified, though it could scarcely supply, the place of more sterling claims to regard. On the accession of Charles to the throne, Sir Robert was promoted to be a lord of the bed-chamber, and, in 1637, raised to the peerage, by the titles of Earl of Ancram, Lord Kerr of Nisbet, Long Newton, and Dolphinton.


Lord Ancram continued stedfastly attached to Charles through every vicissitude of fortune, during his disastrous reign, and rendered himself, on this account, so obnoxious to the revolutionary party, that, on the beheading of that unfortunate prince, he was under the necessity of taking refuge in Holland, where he passed the remainder of his life in indigence and distress. He left a wife and family in England, whose
situation appears to have been for a time equally destitute. In a letter extant of Lady Ancram's to their eldest son, William, afterwards Earl of Lothian,
[note] she gives the following affecting picture of the straits to which the family were reduced. “I think I need not tell you of my affliction, your father being banished and all our means taken from us ever since the king's death, that I have not been able to afford him the least relief; that if it had not bine for some that were meere strangers to us, and did compassionate my sad condition, by sometimes furnishing us with meate and fyer, I and my children had starved; and that which forceth me to make you so much a sharer in our calamities, as to acquaint you with them, is by reason of many sad letters which I get weekly from my lord your father, of his great wants, and the disagreeing of the place where he is with his health and age.” And towards the end of her letter, she adds: “I must deal plainly with you, I and my children have bine several days that we have had neither bread, meete, nor drink, or knowledge or credit where to help ourselves.”


Lord Ancram's death happened shortly before the restoration, when he was at a very advanced age. The interesting portrait of him, given with this work, is from a painting at Newbatattle Abbey, done in Holland, when he was in his eightieth year, but by what master is not known. He had been twice married; first to Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. Murray, of Blackbarony, by whom he had William, afterwards Earl of Lothian; secondly, to Lady Anne Stanley, daughter of William sixth Earl of Derby, by whom he left a son, Charles, who succeeded him in the title of Earl of Ancram, and four daughters.


By all who have ever made mention of Lord Ancram, he is represented to have been a man of great worth and accomplishments; of a moderate and upright spirit in prosperity, and mild and resigned in adversity. The honours conferred on him by his sovereign were gained by no servile compliances, but flowed spontaneously from the high regard in which he was held for his virtues. Beside a taste for painting, he had a turn for poetry, and from a beautiful little sonnet, addressed to the celebrated Drummond of Hawthornden, which is unfortunately the only specimen of his powers extant, he appears to have cultivated it with no ordinary degree of success. The sonnet, as well as an interesting letter which accompanied it, are highly characteristic of the writer; they prove not only his habitual devotion to the muses, but that the sentiments of his mind strictly corresponded with the opinion no generally entertained of his character. They are both subjoined:

To my worthy friend, Mr. William Drummond of Hawthornden.

Every wretched creature knows the way to that place where it is most made of, and so do my verses to you, that was so kind to the last, that every thought I think that way hastes to be with you. It is true, I get leisure to think few, not that they are cara because rara, but, indeed, to declare that my employment and ingine concur to make them, like Jacob's days, few and evil. Withal, I can think of no subject which doth not so resolve in a vein so op-
posite to this world's taste, that my verses are twice lost; to be known like Indians among Spaniards for their cross disposition; and as coming from me, that can make none without an hammer and the fire, so as justly they cannot be auribus hujus seculi accommodata. The best is, I care as little for them as their fame; yet if you do not dislike them, it is warrant enough for me to let them live till they get your doom.


“In this sonnet I have sent you an approbation of your own life, whose character, howsoever I have mist, I have let you see how I love it, and would fain praise it; and indeed would fainer practise it. It may be, the all-wise God keeps us from that kind of life we would chuse in this world, lest we should be the unwillinger to part with it when HE calls us from it. I thank God that hath given me a great good-will to be gone whensoever he calleth; only I pray, with Ezekias, that he will give me leave to set my poor house in such a moderate order, that the wicked world have not occasion altogether to say of me, ‘There was a foolish courtier that was in a fair way to make a great fortune, but that he would seek it, forsooth, by the desolate steps of vertue and fair dealing, and loving only such feckless* company,’ as God knoweth I can neither love nor sooth any other, be they never so powerful, at least their good must exceed their ill, or they must appear so to me. Yet do not think that I will repine if I get no part of this desire, but my utmost thought, when I have done all I

* Thriftless.
should, is ever fiat voluntas Domini! And thus I commend my sonnet to you, and myself as
Your constantly loving friend to command,

Ro. Kerr.”
Where the Court was the week past about the making of the French match, 16th Dec. 1624.

Sweet solitary life, lovely dumb joy,
That need'st no warnings how to grow more wise
By other men's mishaps, nor thee annoy,
Which from sore wrongs done to one's self doth rise.
The morning's second* mansion, Truth's first friend,
Never acquainted with the world's vain broils,
Where the whole day to one own use we spend,
And our dear time no fierce ambition spoils.
Most happy state, that never tak'st revenge
For injuries received, nor dost fear
The court's great earthquake, the griev'd truth of change,
Nor none of falsehood's savoury lies dost hear;
Nor know'st hope's sweet disease, that charms our sense,
Nor its sad cure—dear bought Experience!”
R. K.

* “Because the next way the morning (Aurora) goeth from the lap of Thetis, is to those that dwell in the country; for at court and the great palaces of the world, they lye a-bed and miss it; and Truth getteth first welcome among those that be at leisure to consider of her excellency.”