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



John Ogilby [note] was born in or near Edinburgh, in November, 1600. His father is said to have been a gentleman of respectable family, who, having wasted his patrimony, removed to London, and was soon afterwards thrown into the King's Bench prison. The education of his son was, in the midst of these distresses, greatly neglected; but the youth being of a diligent turn, improved the few opportunities which he had to so much advantage, that he obtained a knowledge not only of his own language, but of the rudiments of the Latin.


An incredible story is told of his earning, while yet a lad, so much money, as not only to release his father from gaol, but also to bind himself apprentice to one Draper, a dancing-master in London. It would be a secret worth knowing, to trace by what possible exertion of industry or ingenuity this feat of filial affection was accomplished; and when known, we should still have cause to wonder, that the young man could abandon the mine of wealth which he had discovered, for the purpose of apprenticing himself to a teacher of capers.


Ogilby had not, it appears, been long under this master, before he became a proficient in the art and mystery of dancing, and so great a favorite with the scholars, that they supplied him with money
enough to enable him to buy up his indentures before the regular period of their expiry, and to set up for himself. The fame of Mr. Ogilby now spread rapidly, and he was soon accounted without a rival in the metropolis. An unlucky step at high capering however, in a mask given by William Duke of Buckingham,
[note] caused him to sprain one of his legs; and though he continued still able to teach, Ogilby was obliged to yield the honours of personal exhibition to others.


In 1633, when the unfortunate Wentworth, [note] Earl of Strafford, went over to Ireland as Lord Deputy, he took Ogilby along with him as one of his household. His duties in this situation were of rather a multifarious description. He was dancing-master to the Earl's children; occasional amanuensis to the Earl himself; and one of his lordship's troop of guard besides. Ambitious of shewing that he had a claim to still higher preferments, Ogilby began, for the first time, to pay his court to the Muses, and produced poetical versions of some of Æsop's [note] fables, and a humorous piece, entitled, “The Character of a Trooper,” which were read and talked of. The Earl was pleased with the assiduity, if not with the genius, displayed by his poetical trooper; and, though he did not at once promote him to be Poet-Laureate to the castle, he gave him an appointment, not much inferior to it in importance—he made him Deputy Master of the Revels. Encouraged by the patronage of the court, and in honour of his new office, Ogilby erected a little theatre in St. Vanburgh-street, Dublin, where he, for some time, exhibited, with considerable success, such dramatic
entertainments as were then in vogue. On the breaking out of the rebellion, however, in 1641, the Master of the Revels' occupation was gone; he lost all his property, and on several occasions his life was in great danger, particularly at the blowing up of Rathfarnham Castle, near Dublin. About the year 1646 Ogilby left Ireland, but was shipwrecked on the passage, and arrived in London, in a most destitute condition.


The Earl of Strafford had perished on the scaffold some years before; and Ogilby's absence in Ireland, having estranged him from all his old connections, he was now without a friend or patron in the world. After a short stay in the metropolis, and a vain effort, as it would seem, to re-establish himself there, he travelled on foot to Cambridge. Here, fortune once more smiled upon him. In what capacity he contrived to earn the means of his subsistence, we are not told; but he was befriended by many of the scholars, and enabled to devote so much of his attention to classical studies, that he became, ere long, a perfect master of the Latin language. He had most probably resumed, for a season, the practice of his original profession; and it can be no disgrace to a man to have taught what be knew, in order to learn something better.


Desirous of turning his academical attainments some account, Mr. Ogilby commenced a Translation of the Works of Virgil. It was completed and published in 8vo. in 1649-50, with a Dedication to William Marquis of Hertford, [note] whom he styles “his most noble patron.” It sold so well, that in 1654 it was reprinted in royal folio, with splendid embellish-
ments. Wood [note] says, that this was the finest edition ever produced by the English press.


Encouraged by the success of this literary adventure Ogilby presented the public, in 1651, with the “Fables of æsop, paraphrased in verse,” &c. in one vol. 4to. The work, says Wood, archly, procured him a degree among the minor poets, being recommended in some verses prefixed by Sir Walter Davenant [note] and James Shirley. [note] The rank he assigns to Ogilby may probably be the true one; but it was unfair in Wood thus to depreciate, by the way, the genius of Shirley, whom he has elsewhere described as “the most noted dramatic poet of his time.”


Although Ogilby had now passed his fiftieth year, such was his laudable perseverance in learned pursuits, that about 1654, an opportunity presenting itself of acquiring a knowledge of the Greek language, he entered upon the study of it with all the ardour of youth. He had now removed to London, and through his friend Shirley, the poet, who then kept a school in Whitefriars, became acquainted with a countryman, of the name of Whitford or Whitfield, who was usher to Shirley, and kindly offered to be Ogilby's preceptor in the Greek.


Ogilby had no sooner acquired a competent knowledge of Homer, [note] in the original, than he was seized with the ambition of again appearing before the public as a translator. He commenced an English poetical version of the Iliad, which he published in a style of great splendour in 1660, with a dedication to Charles II. [note] It was printed on imperial paper, and adorned with a variety of engravings by Hollar [note] and other eminent artists. The notes, which shew con-
siderable learning and acuteness, were supplied Shirley; and it is probable, that the translation was also under some obligations to his superintendance.


In the same year, he published at Cambridge, with the assistance of Dr. John Worthington [note] and other learned men, an edition of the “English Bible,” which surpassed in elegance all preceding edition. It was embellished with a number of illustrative maps and engravings by the best artists. Mr. Ogilby embraced the first occasion of the King's (Charles II.) [note] attending the Royal Chapel, at Whitehall, to present his majesty with a copy of the work. His majesty was so well pleased with its execution, that he gave Mr. Ogilby letters to the House of Convocation which was then sitting, recommending to them his claims to some indemnity for the extraordinary expense which he had incurred in printing the work. The result of this recommendation is not recorded. Ogilby, at the same time, presented a copy to the house of Commons, and petitioned, that his Bible “might be recommended to be made use of in churches.” The house ordered him a gratuity 50 l.; but very properly declined granting the sort monopoly for which he solicited.


On the coronation of Charles the Second in 1660, Ogilby was employed by the commissioners for managing that solemnity, to supply them with what was called the poetical part, including the speeches, emblems, mottoes, and inscriptions. He drew up, on this occasion, “The Relation of his Majesty's Entertainment passing through the City of London to his Coronation, with a description of the Triumphal Arches and Solemnity,” in ten sheets folio; but af-
terwards, by his majesty's command, published it in an extruded form in a large folio volume on royal paper, with fine engravings. The work is said to have been found useful in succeeding coronations.


Ogilby was now in such favour at court, that in 1662, he obtained, in opposition to Sir William Davenant, [note] the patent of Master of the Revels in Ireland—an office which carried him once more into that kingdom. Of the theatre which he had erected during the viceroyalty of Strafford, nothing now remained; but with a spirit of liberality which did honor to his appointment, he laid out no less than two thousand pounds of a small fortune which he had acquired by his literary speculations, in erecting a new one, on a scale worthy of the Irish metropolis. As soon as this erection was completed, he returned to England.


In 1665, he published a second volume, in folio, of Translations from æsop, ornamented with cuts, and in this included some new fables of his own.


In the same year, he published, as a companion to his Iliad, a translation of the Odyssey, printed in a similar style of elegance and embellishment.


It must seem surprising, that in an age when the number of readers was few, and when to starve was but too often time fate of real genius, a writer of Ogilby's inferior powers should have enjoyed such extrusive patronage, as to be able thus to produce one splendid volume after another. But Ogilby was, at least, as good a schemer as he was an author, and had a way of his own of procuring purchasers for his works, which is deserving of notice as a very curious piece of literary history. With the sanction of
the court, he issued a proposal “for the better and more speedy vendition of several volumes (his own works) by the way of a standing lottery.” This lottery commenced drawing on the 10th of May 1675, and, according to the account given by Ogilby in a subsequent proposal, “to the general satisfaction of the adventurers, with no less hopes of a clear dispatch and fair advantage to the author.” It continued drawing several days, when its proceedings were stopped by the plague, and “it long discontinued under the arrest of that common calamity, till the next year's more violent and sudden visitation the dreadful and surprising conflagration swallowed the remainder of the stock, being two parts of three to the value of 3000 l.


Ogilby, at the time of this calamity, occupied house in Whitefriars, which, with all it contained, shared in the general conflagration. In one moment, he saw himself deprived of the whole fruits of a laborious life, with the exception of the value of about 5 l. which was all he had left to begin the world again with, at the advanced age of sixty-six. Besides his whole stock of published works, there perished in the flames three unpublished poems of his own; two of them of the heroic kind, entitled, the “Ephesian Matron,” and “The Roman Slave,” which were intended to have been dedicated to the Earl of Ossory; [note] and one, an epic, in twelve books, in honor of Charles I. The fortitude with which Ogilby sustained a loss attended with so many aggravating circumstances, evinced a strength of character not often exemplified. Instead of throwing up the game of life in despair, as most men at his advanced age would have been
disposed to do, his only thought was how to make a new fortune as rapidly as possible. “He had,” says Wood, [note] speaking of this event, “such excellent invention and prudential wit, and he was master of so good an address, that, when he had nothing to live on, he could not only handsomely shift for himself, but made such rational proposals, which were embraced by rich and great men, that in a short time he would obtain an estate again. He never failed in what he undertook; but by his great industry and prudence went through it with profit and honour to himself.” “His first scheme for repairing his loss of fortune was to revive the lottery speculation, which the plague and fire had interrupted. He resolved, as he says in the second proposal which he issued on this occasion, not only to reprint all his own former editions, but others that were new and of equal value, and to ‘set up a second standing lottery, where such the discrimination of fortune shall be, that few or none shall return with a dissatisfying chance.’ Accordingly, the author opened his office, ‘where persons might put in their first encouragements, (viz.) twenty shillings, and twenty more at the reception of their fortune, and also see those several magnificent volumes, which their varied fortune (none being bad) should present them.’”


Poor Ogilby, however, did not find the encouragement he expected, for he observed “how that a money dearth, a silver famine, slackens and cools the courage of adventurers; through which hazy humours magnifying, shillings look like crowns, and each forty shillings a ten pound heap.” He then determined to change the plan of his lottery, and
“to attemper, or mingle each prize with four allaying blanks; so bringing down by this means the market from double pounds to single crowns.”


The following were the propositions:—“First, whoever will be pleased to put in five shillings shall draw a lott, his fortune to receive the greatest meanest prize, or throw away his intended spending money on a blank. Secondly, whoever will adventure deeper, putting in 25 shillings, shall receive, if such his bad fortune be that he draws all blanks, a prize presented to him by the author, of more value than his money (if offered to be sold) though for offered ware, &c. Thirdly, who thinks fit to put in for eight lots, forty shillings, shall receive nine, an the advantage of their free choice (if all blanks) either of the works complete, vid. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, or æsop the first and second volume,” &c.


The principal prize was valued at £51, and contained an Imperial Bible, Virgil, Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, æsop's Fables, His Majesty's Entertainment, &c.


The whole number of lots was 3360, and the total money he received only £4210, although valued £13700. The office was at “the Black Boy, over against St. Dunstan's Church, Fleet Street.”


The success of this lottery scheme, though not perhaps extremely flattering, was such, at least, as saved Ogilby from loss, and enabled him to push into circulation works, which had they depended on their intrinsic merit would, in all likelihood, have fallen dead-born from the press. It was reported at the time, that in the first lottery the adventurers could never get their books; but Ogilby often de-
clared, that of seven hundred prizes drawn, there were not six which remained undelivered at the time of the fire, and were destroyed with the rest.


Ogilby now prudently turned his attention to a class of publications, which, as their utility was indisputable, required no such extraordinary arts to be forced into notice. He occupied himself solely with works of a geographical description, which he either compiled himself, or employed others to compile for him; and, with the same taste which he displayed in all his preceding publications, spared no pains or expense to present them to the public in as splendid a style as the united arts of typography and engraving were then capable of producing. He set up a printing establishment of his own, solely for the purpose of these works; employed only the best workmen and artists that were to be procured; and to give the greater eclat to his undertakings, he obtained, by his interest at court, the appointment of cosmographer and geographic printer to the king.


The chief work which he projected in this line was a General Atlas of the World; to be comprised in a series of folio volumes. Of this, the following parts were all that he lived to complete: An Embassy from New Batavia to the Emperor of China, 1669. Description of Africa, 1670. Description of America, 1671. Atlas Japanensis; being remarkable addresses, by way of Embassy, from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Emperor of Japan, 1670. Atlas Chinensis; being the second part of a relation of remarkable passages in two Embassies from the East India Company of the United Provinces to the Viceroy of Simlamong, 1671. Asia the first part; being an accurate description of Persia and the several provinces thereof, 1673-4. Britannia, an Historical and Geographical Description Britain, &c. part I.


Ogilby also produced several minor works, illustrative of the topography of England. In 1674, he published in folio, “The Travellers' Guide; or most exact Description of the Roads of England, being Mr. Ogilby's actual Survey and Mensuration by the Wheel of the Great Roads from London all the considerable cities and towns in England and Wales, together with the cross roads from one city or eminent town to another,” &c. This work was afterwards reprinted in octavo, and entitled, “Mr. Ogilby's and Mr. William Morgan's Pocket Book of the Roads, with their computed and measured distances,” &c. Morgan [note] was his grandson and successor, as cosmographer to the king. More recently the work was enlarged and amended by John Owen of the Middle Temple, and published in 12mo. under the title of “Britannia Depicta, or Ogilby improved,” &c. 1731. On the rebuilding of London after the great fire, Ogilby published “A New Map of London, as it is now built;” and in conjunction with Morgan, he also constructed “A Map of London, Westminster, and Southwark;” a “New and Accurate Map of the City of London, distinct from Westminster and Southwark;” and “A Survey of Essex, with the roads exactly measured, and the arms of the gentry on the borders.”


Having attained the age of seventy-six, Ogilby, at
length, departed this life, (Sept. 4, 1676,) and was interred in the vault under part of the church of St. Bride's, in Fleet Street.


The rank of Ogilby, as a poet, has been supposed to be pretty well settled by Pope, [note] who, after admiring him extravagantly when a boy, has thus consigned him to ridicule in the Dunciad.

The rest on outside merit but presume,
Or serve (like other fools) to fill a room;
Such with their shelves, as due proportion hold,
Or their fond parents dress'd in red and gold,
Or where the pictures for the page atone,
And Quarles
[note] is sav'd by beauties not his own;
Here swells the shelf with Ogilby the Great, &c.

Pope, as we are told by his biographers, was in his very early years “a great reader of Ogilby's Homer, and frequently spoke, in the latter part of his life, of the exquisite pleasure which the perusal of it gave him. When, on removing to a school in London, he had an opportunity of visiting the play-house, he became so delighted with theatrical exhibitions, that he formed a kind of play from the chief events of the Iliad, as related by Ogilby, with some verses of his own intermixed. He persuaded a few of the upper boys to act in this piece; the master's gardener represented the character of Ajax; and the actors were dressed after the pictures of his favourite Ogilby, which, indeed, were designed and engraved by artists of note.” The poetry of Ogilby's Homer had probably but little share in Pope's youthful admiration;
he gloated on it with the pleasure of a child, on account of the pictures which it contained. Had the text been even of a better order of composition than it was, he could not, perhaps, have said more than Cowley
[note] has done of his early fondness for the Fairy Queen —“my understanding had little to do with this.”


The contempt which Pope, when of mature age, entertained for Ogilby's poetry and has expressed in the Dunciad, is repeated in still more explicit terms in the preface to his translation of the Iliad. It is there pronounced to be poetry too mean for criticism. I am sorry that I have nothing to oppose to so severe a sentence; yet it is but justice to Ogilby to remark, that the productions by which we would have been best able to judge of the real extent of his poetic genius, were those which perished in the flames and never came under the public eye.


However humble Ogilby's pretensions as a poet may have been, it must be allowed, that in other respects he was no common character. The assiduity with which he repaired the defects of his early education; his attainments as a classical scholar; his address in procuring friends, and his care, by useful and honourable services, to retain them; the ingenuity of his schemes, and the magnitude of his performances, are all evidences of a mind capacious, inventive, and vigorous. Cibber [note] says, that “he seems to have commended himself to the world by honest means without having recourse to the servile arts of flattery.” I rather suspect, that to flatter must have formed no inconsiderable part of Ogilby's art of rising in the
world. It may have been flattery, however, without debasement; such honest courtliness as the most upright of men must have recourse to, when fate has left them to be the architects of their own fortune.

W. O.