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



David Mallet, [note] or Malloch, is said to have be a descendant of the clan Macgregor, so celebrated its misdeeds and its misfortunes. When, under the chieftainship of the noted Rob Roy, [note] the whole of this race were proscribed by a solemn act of the state, and the few who escaped famine or the sword were compelled to purchase their safety by stealing into the Lowlands under fictitious names, some of them, the ancestors of the poet, assumed that of Malloch. His father was one James Malloch, who kept a public house at Crieff, on the borders of Highlands, where David was born, as is generally supposed, about the year 1700. The history of his early years, even till manhood, is involved in the completest obscurity. He seems himself to have wished, that it should rest so for ever; nor can it be said, that the conjectures of others have in the least drawn the veil aside. One writer* [note] tells an idle story of his being compelled by the poverty of his parents to become Janitor of the High School of Edinburgh, an office which is never conferred except on age and experience. The picture which Fergusson has given of the Janitor of his alma mater, is one which may suit all the rest of the tribe:

* Companion to the Play-house, vol. ii.
“Wi' haffit locks sae smooth and sleek,
John look'd like ony ancient Greek.”

Another biographer, with greater appearance of probability, infers, that Malloch studied at Aberdeen, from his having written some youthful verses on the repair of that university. If ever he wooed the classic muse on the banks of the Dee, he must, however, have early left it for the university of Edinburgh; for it is there that we meet with the first certain trace of Malloch. The Duke of Montrose [note] having enquired among the professors for a fit person to be tutor to his sons, they recommended Malloch to the enviable situation. It is scarcely necessary to say, that only the greatest merit could have procured for a youth of humble parentage so distinguished a preference over the rest of his fellow students; nor is it easy to conceive what motive Malloch could have had for concealing any of the means by which he arrived at such early eminence. They may have partaken of difficulty, but they could not be dishonorable.


With his noble pupils, Malloch made the tour of Europe. On their return, he continued to reside with them at London; and, from his station in so illustrious a family, gained admission into the most polished circles of society. “By degrees,” says Dr. Johnson, [note] “having cleared his tongue from his native pronunciation, so as to be no longer distinguished as a Scot, he seemed inclined to disencumber himself from all adherences of his original, and took upon him to change his name from Scotch Malloch to English Mallet, without any imaginable reason of preference which the eye or ear can discover.” The reason of preference is not perhaps so imperceptible,
as the spirit in which the change was made is objectionable. He would have made the improvement in sound completer, by calling himself Mallow, and he would probably have done so had he not been as afraid of the imputation of an Irish as of a Scotch original.*


As Mallet, he became first favourably known to English public by the affecting ballad of William and Margaret. It was printed in No. 36 of the Plain Dealer, July 14, 1724. “Of this poem,” says Johnson, “he has been envied the reputation; and plagiarism has been boldly charged, but never proved.” There is no doubt, however, that a certain degree of plagiarism is justly chargeable against Mallet. The idea of the ballad was taken from two older ballads, entitled “William's Ghaist,” and “Fair Margaret and Sweet William;” from which he has also borrowed largely both in sentiment and expression. In “William's Ghaist” the spectral visitant thus reclaims his plighted faith:

O sweet Margret! O dear Margret!
I pray thee speak to me;
Give me my faith and troth, Margret!
As I gave it to thee.

And so in Mallet's poem, Margaret exclaims:

Bethink thee, William, of thy fault,
Thy pledged and broken oath;

* The first time the name of David Mallet occurs in print is in a list of subscribers to Savage's [note] Miscellanies, 1726. A. S.
And give me back my maiden vow,
And give me back my troth.

In “Fair Margret and Sweet William” the midnight scene is introduced in a stanza which Mallet has almost literally adopted for the commencement of his ballad.

When day was gone and night was come,
And all men fast asleep,
There came the spirit of fair Margret,
And stood at William's feet.

Mallet has here even preserved the defective rhyme of the original. In some of the later reprints of the ballad, this defect has been amended, by changing the second line into
When night and morning meet;
but it is the amendment of some friendly hand, and not Mallet's own.


The conclusion of “William's Ghaist” had also evidently been the model on which Mallet formed the winding-up of his tale.

O stay, my only true love, stay,
The constant Margret cry'd;
Wan grew her cheeks, she clos'd her e'en,
Stretch'd her soft limbs, and died.

Still, however, notwithstanding all these traces of imitation, there is enough of Mallet's own in the ballad of William and Margaret, to justify all the poetical reputation which it procured for its author.
I do not know of many ballads in better taste, combining, in so short a space, a greater share of sentiment and appropriate imagery.*


In 1728, Mallet produced “the Excursion,” in imitation of “the Seasons” [note] of Thomson, whose friendship he enjoyed. It is a collection of poetical landscapes, sketched with considerable elegance and spirit, but with more gawdiness than truth of colouring.


Mallet's next production was the tragedy of Eurydice. It was brought out at Drury Lane; but coldly received. When, thirty years after, Garrick [note] attempted to revive it, neither all the talents of that great actor, nor those of Mrs. Cibber, [note] could procure for it

* A bold attempt was recently made in some of the periodical journals to rob Mallet entirely of the merit of this ballad by a fabricated old version, which Mallet was said to have adopted as his own, after making a few alterations. The first and last verse of this modern-antique may suffice to manifest the cheat.
When Hope lay hush'd in silent night,
And Woe was wrapp'd in sleep;
In glided Margret's pale-ey'd ghost,
And stood at William's feet.
*    *    *    *    *
Thrice call'd, unheard, on Margret's name,
And thrice sore wept her fate,
Then laid his cheek on her cold grave,
And died and lov'd too late.
a more favorable reception. Yet, though the chief characters had such able representatives, so much of an egotist was Mallet, that, as Davis
[note] tells us, he sat all the time in the orchestra, and bestowed his execrations plentifully on the players, to whom entirely, he attributed the bad success of the piece.


About this period, Mallet appears to have left the Montrose family, and to have been residing with Mr. Knight, [note] at Gosfield, probably as tutor. There is a remarkable letter extant from Pope [note] to Mrs. Knight, in which he speaks of Mallet in the following affectionate terms: “To prove to you how little essential to friendship I hold letter writing,—I have not yet written to Mr. Mallet, whom I love and esteem greatly, nay, whom I know to have as tender a heart, and that feels a remembrance as long as any man.” How ill Mallet repaid this zealous friendship, we shall afterwards see. In the first warmth of it, he wrote, for no

it may be safely affirmed, that such conceits as distinguish these two passages never belonged too any Scottish ballad, a century old. The last is particularly praised by its author. “None,” he says, “can help remarking, how poor and flat the last line of the copy ends in the ballad, in comparison of the original.” He appears to have no conception of the simple and genuine pathos of Mallet's conclusion.
And thrice he call'd on Margret's name,
And thrice he wept full sore;
Then laid his cheek to her cold grave,
And word spake never more.
A. S.
other purpose than to please Pope, by abusing Bentley,
[note] a poem, entitled “Verbal Criticism.” It is stuffed, as Bentley observes, with illiberal cant about pedantry and collectors of manuscripts. Real scholars will always speak with due regard of such names as the Scaligers, Salmasiuses, Heinsiuses, Burmans, Gronoviuses, Reiskiuses, Marklands, Gesners, and Heynes. Dr. Johnson [note] allows the versification to be tolerable, but adds, with truth, that criticism cannot allow it higher praise.


When Frederick, Prince of Wales, [note] was at variance with his father, and endeavoured to add to his popularity by the patronage of men of letters, Mallet had the good fortune, through the recommendation of his friends, to be appointed Under Secretary to His Royal Highness, with a salary of 200 l. a year.


In 1739 he published and dedicated to his royal patron “Mustapha,” a tragedy. It was generally supposed to glance both at the King and at Sir Robert Walpole, [note] in the characters of Solyman, the Magnificent, and Rustan, his vizier; but it received, notwithstanding, the licence of the Lord Chamberlain, and was acted with great applause. The first representation of the piece is said to have been honored with the presence of all the heads of the opposition, and much of its success was, undoubtedly, owing to the allusion which it was supposed to contain to the living actors in passing events. In most points of intrinsic merit it was, indeed, superior to Eurydice; but in general want of interest they are nearly on a par.


In the year following, Mallet wrote, in conjunction with Thomson, by command of the prince, the
masque of “Alfred,” in honor of the birth-day of the Princess Augusta, his eldest daughter, (the late Duchess of Brunswick.) It was twice acted in the gardens of Cliefden, by London performers. After Thomson's death, Mallet was at some pains to revise it for public representation, and, with the aid of lofty music and splendid scenery, it attracted for a season as much notice as other Christmas spectacles are wont to do.


In 1742, Mallet made a valuable addition to his fortune by marriage. He had already buried a first wife, by whom he had several children; but of this lady there is no account. His second wife was a Miss Lucy Estob, [note] daughter of Lord Carlisle's Steward, with whom he received a portion of 10,000 l.


In 1740, Mallet wrote a “Life of Lord Bacon,” which was prefixed to an edition then published of that philosopher's [note] works. It is written with elegance, but shews too glimmering an idea of the spirit which animated the illustrious individual pourtrayed, to be ever referred to for an accurate knowledge of his character. Dr. Johnson [note] makes a just distinction, when he says of it, that it is known as appended to Bacon's [note] volumes, but is no longer mentioned.


Become affluent, he appears to have grown lazy. Seven years had elapsed without any thing from his pen, when he again appeared as a claimant for public favour, by the publication of the “Hermit; or, Amyntor and Theodora.” This poem has been condemned by Dr. Warton, [note] in his Essay on the Life and Writings of Pope, as exhibiting “a nauseous affectation of expressing every thing pompously and poetically;” but Dr. Johnson, more tender to its
merits, gives it praise for “copiousness and elegance of language, vigour of sentiment, and imagery well adapted to lake possession of the fancy.” It must be allowed, indeed, that the fault which Warton imputes to it, was too much in the taste of Johnson himself, to make it surprising, that it should escape his discrimination; yet the reader who is delighted with
“Rasselas,” will scarcely fail to derive pleasure from “Hermit.” It contains a great deal of excellent morality, enforced by that best of all sanctions, the divine will.


We come now to a part of Mallet's history which has been the subject of much observation, and, deservedly, of much censure. Pope, [note] whose friendship it was an honor to have obtained, and not by any other honor to be exceeded, had introduced Mallet to Bolingbroke. [note] When “The Patriot King,” by Bolingbroke, was first written, only seven copies were printed, and given to some particular friends of the author, including Pope among the number, with positive injunction against publication; his lordship assigning as his reason, that the work was not finished in such a way as he wished it to be before it we into the world. Pope lent his copy to Mr. Ralph Allen, [note] of Prior Park, near Bath, stating to him, at the same time, the injunction of Lord Bolingbroke; but that gentleman was so captivated with it, that he pressed Pope to allow him to print a small impression at his own expense, using such caution as should effectually prevent a single copy getting into the possession of any one till the consent of the author should be obtained. Under this condition, Pope gave his consent. An edition was then printed,
packed up and deposited in a warehouse, of which Pope received the key. Here it lay at the time of Pope's death, when the transaction came to the knowledge of Lord Bolingbroke, who affected an extraordinary degree of indignation at what he was pleased to call Pope's “breach of faith.” Mallet has been generally said to be the person who carried the tale to his lordship's ear, but of this part of the business, at least, he appears to have been innocent. The late Mr. George Rose, [note] to whom all the particulars of the story were more than once related by the Earl of Marchmont, [note] the friend of Bolingbroke, gives an account of the discovery, which seems in no way to inculpate Mallet. “On the circumstance,” he says, “being made known to Lord Bolingbroke, who was then a guest in his own house at Battersea, with Lord Marchmont, to whom he had lent it for two or three years, his lordship was in great indignation; to appease which, Lord Marchmont sent Mr. Grevinkop to bring not the whole edition, of which a bonfire was instantly made on the terrace at Battersea.” His lordship's wrath, however, was not even to be thus appeased. He resolved now to revise and publish the work himself, and employed Mallet to write a preface, in which the part that Pope had acted was to be represented to the world in the blackest and falsest colours possible. Mallet engaged with readiness in the odious task, and though one cannot help thinking, that he must have had some compunctious visitings, when he reflected, that the man whose memory he was aspersing for hire, had been his friend, the performance betrays nothing of the kind. Pope is every where spoken of in the most malignant
and contemptuous terms; the affair of the surreptitious edition, so harmless both in the intention and event, is represented as originating in the basest motives; every fact which could tend to the exculpation of Pope, particularly the share which Allen had in the business, and the careful suppression of the copies until Bolingbroke's permission for their publication could be procured, is entirely concealed. How far Mallet was as well acquainted, as Bolingbroke must have been, with the real facts of the case, we have no means of knowing; nor can any one care about the proportions in which they divide the infamy of such transaction between them.


Mr. D'Israeli, [note] struck with the apparent inadequacy of this affair of the surreptitious edition, to cause this rage on the part of Lord Bolingbroke, who had idolized Pope while living, and wept over him in death, suggests, that we ought rather to seek for origin of it in resentment for the preference with which Pope had distinguished Warburton, [note] who Bolingbroke hated. But though such may have been the real motive, it is not at all probable, that Mallet should have been made acquainted with it; nor, if he had, would it have lessened the baseness of the hireling part he acted.


At Bolingbroke's death he rewarded the obnoxious service, which Mallet had done him, by bequeathing to him the care and profit of all his writings, published and unpublished; a singular trust to place in a man, whose chief recommendation to his notice had been the ease with which he could sacrifice the memory of a departed friend to his own interest, and another's malignity. It would seem as if the spirit of
retribution had dictated the bequest, in order that the tool of Bolingbroke's calumny on the memory of Pope, might also be the instrument of bringing shame on the memory of his calumniator. Mallet, with a view to his own emolument, proceeded to publish every scrap of Bolingbroke's he could find, without ever attempting to make any discrimination between what was proper to be published and what ought to be suppressed, either from a regard to the character of the writer, or a regard to the interests of society. Bolingbroke, like Chesterfield
[note] and Hume, [note] had left something behind him worse than he produced in his lifetime; his infidel principles were, in fact, but little known before his death, except to his most intimate friends. It was reserved for Mallet, in the characteristic execution of the trust reposed in him, to make known to all the world, that his benefactor was a scoffer of that religion in which others place their assurance of immortality.


The manner in which Mallet conducted the publication of these remains affords another unfavourable illustration of his character. Franklin, a printer, to whom many of Bolingbroke's political pieces, written during his opposition to Walpole, had been given, as he supposed, in perpetuity, laid claim to some compensation for them. Mallet allowed his claim, and the amount of indemnity was referred to arbitrators, who were empowered to decide upon it by an instrument signed by the parties; but when they derided unfavorably to Mr. Mallet, he refused to yield to the decision, and Franklin was thus deprived of the benefit of the award from his not having insisted on bonds of arbitration, to which Mallet had objected as
degrading to a man of honour! He then proceed with the help of Millar,
[note] the bookseller, to collect and print every thing which he could trace to have been written by Bolingbroke, and so sanguine were his hopes of profit from the speculation, that he rejected an offer of 3000 l., which Millar made him, for the copy-right. The collection at last appeared in five volumes quarto. Mallet had soon occasion to repent his refusal of Millar's liberal offer. The sale was so extremely slow, that the edition was not sold off twenty years, even though assisted into notoriety by a presentment of the work by the Grand Jury of Westminster, on account of the profane sentiments which it contained.


Mallet's next appearance, as an author, was of a still more revolting character than any thing which he had yet done. When the nation was exasperated by the disasters of an ill-conducted war, and the ministry wished to divert the public indignation from themselves, Mallet was employed to turn it upon the unfortunate Admiral Byng. He wrote a letter under the character of “A Plain Man,” in which the disgrace brought upon the British arms, in the affair of Minorca, was imputed to the cowardice of Admiral Byng. [note] It was printed on a large sheet, and circulated with great industry. How cruelly it effected its purpose, need not be told. Byng is now universally considered to have fallen a victim to the popular clamour, which was thus raised against him, rather than to any actual demerit in his conduct. The price of blood, says Dr. Johnson, with fearful but just severity, was a pension, which Mallet retained till his death.


Were it allowable to trace in the remote consequences of this event an apology for Mallet's share in contributing to it, the apology would be ample enough. The fate of Byng, however unmerited, has been a lesson of powerful utility to the British navy. One individual was sacrificed, but the permanent glory and prosperity of the country were promoted. Never till then was it sufficiently impressed on the minds of our officers, that where there is a possibility to sink, burn, or destroy, no consideration whatever must interfere to prevent their venturing life and every thing in the attempt; and hence, in a great measure, that succession of matchless achievements, which have, in later times, raised the naval glory of Britain to so unrivalled a pitch, and so well illustrated the maxim of the immortal Nelson, [note] that “in sea affairs, nothing is impossible and nothing improbable.”


With all this, however, Mallet has nothing to do. He acted his part in the matter from the narrowest principle of self-interest, looking only to the pension which he was to receive for the prostitution of his talents, and careless who was to suffer or who to gain, so that his own ends were attained.


Mallet was now for some years silent, but generally supposed not to be unoccupied. On the death of the celebrated Duchess of Marlborough, [note] (1744) it was found by her will, that she had left to Mr. Glover, [note] the author of Leonidas, and Mr. Mallet, jointly, the sum of 1000 l., on condition, that they should draw up, from the family papers, a history of the Life of the Great Duke. [note] The bequest was, however, accompanied with so many vexatious prohibitions and restrictions, that Glover, a man of high spirit and virtue, refused to have any thing to do with it. Mallet, less
scrupulous, accepted the legacy under every condition attached to it, and was put in possession of all the papers necessary for proceeding with the execution of his task. The second Duke of Marlborough, in order to quicken his industry, very liberally added to the legacy an annual pension. Mallet then pretended to have begun his labours, and talked much and often of the progress he had made. In a dedication to his Grace, of a collection of his poems, he even spoke of having speedily the honor of dedicating to him the Life of his illustrious predecessor. On the death of Mallet, however, it did not appear that, notwithstanding all the money he had pocketed, he had ever written a line on the subject.


In 1763, Mallet produced, at Drury Lane, his tragedy of “Elvira,” which he is said to have written with the intention of promoting the ministerial views of his countryman, Lord Bute. [note] He seems to have imagined, that, by the mere force of declamation, he could inspire an aversion for war, at a moment when the nation felt itself dishonored by an injurious peace. As nothing could be more preposterous than such an idea, it is not surprising, that the play, though assisted by the ablest theatrical talents of the day, met with an extremely cold reception. The Critical Review, of that period, praised it beyond bounds; but as Mallet himself was known to be one of the critics in the journal, the public were not induced to pay much respect to an authority which might, very probably, be that of the author himself.*

* It is no secret, that when Smollet had the superintendance of this Review, he was the critic of his own works. A. S.

Davies [note] tells an amusing anecdote of the way in which Mallet tricked Garrick [note] into the performance of this piece. He made him believe, that in the Life of Marlborough, with which he always pretended to be so busy, he had not failed to make honorable mention of Garrick's name. The vanity of the theatrical hero was flattered by the compliment, and there was nothing, at that moment, which he would not do “to serve his good friend Mr. Mallet.


In consequence of declining health, Mallet, accompanied by his wife, sought the benefit of a change of air in the south of France; but, after some time, finding no improvement, he returned to England, where he died, April 21, 1765.


Mr. Mallet's stature, says Dr. Johnson, [note] “was diminutive, but he was regularly formed. His appearance till he grow corpulent was agreeable, and he suffered it to want no recommendation that dress could give it.” With the due embellishment of his exterior, his second wife [note] is reported to have taken particular pains. She was ambitious that Mallet should appear like a gentleman of distinction, and, from her great kindness, always chose herself to purchase every thing he wore, and to let her friends know that it was out of her fortune she did so.


After the many lamentable proofs which the history of Mallet's life has furnished of his want of honor, feeling, and integrity, no one can be surprised to learn, that, among his friends, he was a declared free-thinker in principle. His wife, too, chose to profess infidelity; and, as may naturally be expected, their company was selected from among persons of congenial sentiments. Gibbon [note] appears to have been a
frequent guest at their table. The lady used to take a prominent part in the conversation; and, proud her opinions, would often, in the warmth of argument, preface them with the exclamation, “ Sir, we Deists.


It is only as Mallet the poet, that it is possible to rest, for a moment, without dissatisfaction on his character. Several of his pieces have suffered in durable reputation from the temporary purposes to which they were directed, but all of them display a richness of language, elegance of style, and force of sentiment, which will entitle them to preservation and remembrance. Had he never written any thing but the ballad of “William and Margaret,” Mallet would have deserved, for that alone, to have lived to future ages.


Of the children whom he had by his first wife, one, named Cilesia, [note] who was married to an Italian of rank, wrote a tragedy, called “Almida,” which was acted at Drury Lane. This lady died at Genoa in 1790.

D. R.