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



Charles Salmon [note] is a name, which may be pronounced in many a poetic circle without exciting a single recollection; yet it was the name of one whom Ferguson not only loved as a friend, but owned as no unworthy rival, in his court to the Muses. Like Ferguson, he was early lost to the world; but, less happy in his poetical fortunes, the memorials which he left of his genius have, with a few exceptions, been either lost through the casualties of private possession, or remain dispersed and neglected among some of the many fleeting repositories to which the effusions of youthful genius are so often irrecoverably consigned.


The particulars, which the writer of the present imperfect attempt at some notice of Salmon's life, is able to communicate respecting him, are few, but interesting. They were communicated to him by one who knew Salmon well, and esteemed because he knew him.


Charles Salmon was a native of Edinburgh, and is supposed to have been born between the years 1745 and 1750. His parents filled some inferior employment about the theatre, during the management of Mr. Digges; [note] but though in humble circumstances, they appear to have given their son a good
education. He evinced always a superior taste in composition, and was fond of quoting rhetorical rules. He was bred to the business of a printer, in the house of the celebrated Walter Ruddiman; [note] and in Ruddiman's Weekly Magazine, he made his first juvenile attempts in rhyme, unknown, it is believed, to his employer.


A love of social pleasures and of poetry, go too commonly together. Salmon became, at an early age, the boon companion of most of the fine spirits of his own rank in life, and of a rank a little above it in Edinburgh, and few were the clubs of good fellows, of which he was not a member. He sung an excellent song, and yielded to few in conversational talent, delighting his associates by his vivacity, good humour, and occasional fits of ardent enthusiasm. Among the most valued friends he acquired, was Robert Ferguson the poet. He inherited from his parents a strong attachment to the cause of the Pretender, [note] whose name, indeed, he shared with a brother, called Stewart Salmon; and this devotion to a hopeless cause gave an air of romance to his character, which did not lessen the interest it inspired. A club still subsisted in Edinburgh, called the Royal Oak Club, composed wholly of professed Jacobites, and of this society Salmon became poet-laureate. In this capacity, he composed a song, called “The Royal Oak Tree,” which became a standard favorite with the club, and was sung on all their great occasions. The following copy of the words is taken from an obscure collection of Jacobite songs, published by Robertson, [note] of the Horse Wynd, Edinburgh; in which, however, it appears without the name of the author.

Tune.—The Mulberry Tree.
Ye true sons of Scotia, together unite,
And yield all your senses to joy and delight;
Give mirth its full scope, that the nations may see
We honour our standard, the great royal tree.
All shall yield to the Royal Oak Tree;
Bend to thee,
Majestic Tree,
Cheerful was he who sat in thee,
And thou, like him, thrice honour'd shall be.
When our great sov'reign, Charles, was driv'n from his throne,
And dar'd scarce call the kingdom or subjects his own,
Old Pendril, the miller, at the risk of his blood,
Hid the King of our Isle, in the King of the Wood.
All shall yield, &c.
In summer, in winter, in peace, or in war,
'Tis acknowledged, with freedom, by each British tar,
That the oak of all ships can best skreen us from harm;
Best keep out the foe, and best ride out the storm.
All shall yield, &c.
Let gard'ners and florists of foreign plants boast,
And cull the poor trifles of each distant coast;
There's none of them all, from a shrub to a tree,
Can ever compare, great Oak Royal, with thee.
All shall yield, &c.

Salmon is also supposed to have written, about
this time, a song, which he was fond of singing, beginning,

On a bank of flowers, on a summer's day,
Where lads and lasses met;
On the meadow green, each maiden gay,
Was by her true love set:
Dick fill'd his glass, drank to his lass,
And Charles's health around did pass.
Huzza they cry'd, and a' reply'd,
“The Lord restore our king.”

Salmon, at last, found himself immersed in a course of life to which the finances of a journeyman printer were wholly unequal; and in conjunction with Mr. George Fulton, [note] another journeyman printer, (afterwards distinguished as a teacher in Edinburgh,) he came to the prudent resolution of quitting Edinburgh. A printing concern had been commenced by a Mr. Jackson, [note] at Dumfries, the first of the kind established in that place, and thither Salmon and Fulton bent their steps, in the hopes of obtaining employment. In this they were not disappointed; they were both immediately engaged.


For Salmon, this change was productive of none of its anticipated good. He had neither the disposition nor the fortitude to resist the fascinations of society, and his poetic and convivial talents soon made his acquaintance as much cultivated in Dumfries, as it had been in Edinburgh. He found that he had only changed a large circle of dissipation for a smaller, in which the syren pleasure held him more closely within her grasp. The society in which he here mixed was of a better description, in point of rank, than
that of Edinburgh, but in other respects it was a great deal worse. Habits of drinking and idling prevailed at this period among the young men of Dumfries, to an extent unequalled perhaps in any other town in Scotland. The narrowness of Salmon's finances compelled him to partake with some reserve in their libations; yet occasions would occur, when, abandoning himself to the impulse of the moment, he would vie with them in their worst excesses.


Among the friends whom he had left at Edinburgh, there was none his separation from whom he more regretted than Robert Ferguson; and it would seem that the regard had been mutual. Salmon had not been long at Dumfries when he was surprised one afternoon by the sight of his old friend bursting in upon him, attired in a light walking dress, and covered all over with dust. Ferguson had walked all the way from Edinburgh to see him.


At the suggestion of some of the more prudent of his gay companions, Salmon issued proposals for publishing a collection of his poetical effusions, under the modest title of, “Poems by a Printer.” From the misfortunes which afterwards befel him, this collection never saw the light; but there is reason to believe that he had accumulated a sufficient number of poems to have formed a very respectable volume. Several of them had appeared in Ruddiman's Magazine and in the Dumfries Weekly Magazine, established by Mr. Jackson, on a similar plan, and may perhaps still be traced. The friend, to whom the writer of this memoir is indebted for such information as it contains of Salmon, remembers to have heard him recite two imitations, or rather parodies, of the Deserted Village
Splendid Shilling, as parts of his intended publication. The subject of the former was “Auld Reikie,” and of the latter, “The Threadbare Coat.” There were also a variety of occasional pieces, addressed to the friends with whom he associated, including some names which would have vouched for the regard in which, though poor and humble, Charlie Salmon was held by individuals of the first respectability.


Whatever prospects of poetical renown Salmon may have formed, one night of fatal dissipation came and destroyed them all. In a fit of intoxication, he fell into the company of a recruiting serjeant, and the same friend who had last seen him with a white cockade in a paper cap, working a press to the song of “The crown is Charlie's right, is it no? is it no?” saw him next morning enlisted under the black cockade, or, as Salmon was wont with other jacobites to call it, the curse of God. Poor Salmon! When asked by one of his friends how he could have been so misled, he answered, with a smile at his own simplicity, “I listed for a lieutenant.”


The regiment in which he had enlisted was the Seaforth Highlanders, and without waiting to excite what he dreaded more than the bitterest reproach, the commiseration of pretended friends, he hastened to join it. In the memorable mutiny which some time afterwards broke out in this regiment at Edinburgh, when they seized possession of Arthur's Seat, and set the power of government at defiance, Salmon is said to been called upon, in consequence of his knowledge of English and superior address, to take the management for his comrades of the negociation which ensued for their return to duty. The regiment was ultimately embarked
for India, and Salmon was heard of no more.


Of the merits of a writer of whose works we know little, it would be rash to form any conclusive judgement. The pieces which have happened to survive the general fate of his productions, may perhaps be those which were least entitled to have any influence on the decision. He appears to have been rather a writer who promised much, than who had realized much. The elegy which is subjoined, and which is the best of his productions that can be traced in Ruddiman's Magazine, shews a fine tone of feeling, but abounds in puerilities and imitations.

An Elegy, written in the Abbey Church, Edinburgh.
Fled from the mansions of the great and gay,
Where idle pleasure wastes her fleeting breath,
Thro' this sad cell I'll take my lonely way,
And view the havock made by time and death.
And, as I enter, let no swelling rage,
No thoughts impure, my pensive bosom load,
But sweet religion all the man engage:
For this was once the sacred house of God.
Where oft Devotion, with her pious train,
In silent contemplation spent her days,
Or wak'd to extacy the glowing strain,
With grateful accents, to her Maker's praise.
No more shall youth and beauty grace this shrine,
Or pious sages to the portals throng;
No more the arch shall meet the voice divine,
Receive the sound, or echo back the song.
The pride and glory of our country's fled,
The great supporters of the nation's laws,
The statesmen, heroes, and the kings are dead,
Who fought thro' fields of blood in freedom's cause.
Vast heaps of kindred here bestrew the ground,
And skulls and coffins to my view arise;
Here's friend and foe profusely scatter'd round,
And here a jaw, and there a thigh-bone, lies.
Perhaps this hand has, in some bloody fray,
With lusty sinews grasp'd the flaming brand,
Fought thro' the dreadful carnage of the day,
And drove Oppression from its native land.
Yet fame and honour are but empty things,
The fleeting sunshine of uncertain day;
For statesmen, peasants, beggars, lords, and kings,
All fall alike to cruel Time a prey.
Tho' men, mere men, may unregarded rot,
And buried in their native dust consume,
Shall Scotland's great commander be forgot,
And moulder, unregretted, in the tomb?
Will no kind bard in grateful numbers sing
The mighty wonders of each hero's arm?
Will no kind friend protect a clay-cold king,
Collect his bones, and keep them safe from harm?
Would some sweet muse assist me in the song,
I'd dwell with rapture on the glowing strain,
Roll the smooth tide of harmony along,
'Till echo undulate applause again.
When night's dark curtain hid the beams of day
From these sad eyes, my soul should banish sleep;
Again I'd raise the sympathetic lay,
And teach the sullen monument to weep.
Ye sons of Scotland! tho' you cannot raise
Your long-lost monarch from the silent bier,
Their deeds are worthy of the highest praise,
And simple gratitude demands a tear.
For you they bore the faulchion and the shield,
For you each piercing winter blast they stood,
For you they struggled in the hostile field,
For you they wither'd in their crimson blood.
Let no base slander on their mem'ry fall,
Nor malice of their little faults complain;
They were such men, as, take them all in all,
We shall not look upon their like again.
Here lies the partner of the hero's bed,
Whose every feature wore unequall'd grace:
Can Love's soft murmurs raise this death-struck head,
Or take the pale complexion from the face?
Go then, ye fair! exert your utmost skill,
Employ each art to keep your beauty fast;
Try each perfume, use paint, do what you will,
Of this sad colour you must be at last.
Ah, me! how melancholy seem these walls,
To earth returning with a quick decay!
Take heed, O Man! for, as each atom falls,
So wastes thy little spark of life sway.
O thou, my soul, from worldly vices fly,
And follow Innocence where'er she strays;
See with what ease an honest man can die,
None but the wicked wish for length of days.
May 25, 1771.