Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by
DAVID HILL RADCLIFFE

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities


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Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
Front-matter
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.)
Front-matter
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.)
Front-matter
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.)
Front-matter
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Front-matter
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.)
Front-matter
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
Index
Corrections

Part  IV:
WILLIAM WILKIE
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.37
Dr. WILKIE.

1

William Wilkie [note] was the son of a respectable farmer in the parish of Dalmeny, in the county of Linlithgow; and born on the 5th of October, 1721. After receiving a common school education, he was sent at the age of 14 to the university of Edinburgh; but ere he had completed his academical course his father died: leaving the charge of the farm, and the protection of a mother and three sisters, to devolve upon the young student. From the near vicinage of Edinburgh, and the laxity of attendance permitted by the usages of Scottish universities, he was however enabled both to carry on the business of the farm, and to continue his collegiate appearances till he obtained the degree of licentiate in the Scottish church.

2

While yet a youth, Wilkie is said to have shewn strong indications of poetic talent. In the statistical account of the parish of Dalmeny, there is a copy of some indifferent verses On a Storm, alleged to have been written by him when in his tenth year. Dr. Gleig, [note] in the life of Wilkie which he has inserted in the Supplement* to the Encyclopedia Britannica, inclines to regard this as “a story fabricated to raise the Scottish poet to the same eminence with Pope, whose versification he is allowed to have imitated with success.” He


* First Supplement.
38LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
does not doubt that Wilkie wrote these verses during some part of his early life; but he thinks it improbable that they were written so early as his tenth year, because he “displays a notion, a confused notion indeed, of the laws of electricity, which a boy, in his tenth year, and at a period when electricity was little understood, could not have acquired.” The propriety of this remark is strongly confirmed by an interesting fact, of which Dr. G. was certainly not aware, which at once accounts for young Wilkie's confused knowledge of electricity, and fixes the period when he acquired it. The Professor of Natural Philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, at the time when Wilkie went through his academical course, was the celebrated Colin Maclaurin;
[note] and among other mysteries of nature which he unfolded to his students, none was more important, or attended with more remarkable circumstances, than that of the phenomenon just alluded to. Mr. Maclaurin had two classes: a public class, to which all had access; and a private one, consisting of a select number of the students, of better parts and more inquisitive minds than ordinary, to whom he lectured on the higher parts of philosophy. At a meeting of the latter class one evening, the Professor informed them that he had just received a letter from a learned friend of his on the continent; containing, as he said, discoveries in Natural Philosophy, which were of so extraordinary and whimsical a nature, that he could give no manner of credit to them; and could only conclude that the judgement of his worthy friend was failing, and that he had communicated the reveries of an infected imagination as discoveries in science. He then produced
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.39
the letter, and read, how, that in the neighbourhood of the place where the writer lived, it had been discovered, that by turning a glass globe quickly round upon its axis, and at the same time rubbing it upon certain substances, it was heard to crackle and seen to emit sparks of fire; that if any person touched it at that time he suffered a violent shock, and seemed to have received a blow upon the wrists; with many other things to the same purpose, which now rank among time most ordinary phenomena of electricity. Mr. Maclaurin observed, that though strongly persuaded, that they were mere chimeras of imagination instead of facts, as his friend affirmed, yet as the operations of nature were sometimes very extraordinary, and as he had on every former occasion found his friend a very sober sensible man, not ready to be misled by false appearances, he would not reject as a fiction any thing which he had asserted, till he had given it a fair trial; and as he had described in a very particular manner the apparatus necessary for producing such singular effects, he would cause one of the machines to be made in a short time, and repeat the experiment. This he accordingly did. But how great was his surprise to find, that upon trial, all the experiments turned out exactly as they had been described! He immediately called together his students; reminded them of his former incredulity; repeated the experiments before them, and shewed them how much he had been mistaken, and what injustice he had done his ingenious friend. He concluded with warning all those who heard him to profit by the lesson which this occurrence afforded, and never to reckon anything which was delivered as a new discovery impossible, however improbable it might appear, till
40LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
they had given it the fairest trial. Nor did Mr. Maclaurin rest here. He went to his public class, which had as yet heard nothing of the discovery, and revealed to his younger students all that had passed on the subject. To which class Wilkie belonged, does not appear; but from the profound knowledge of Natural Philosophy which he displayed in after life, it is probable that he ranked among the select few. In either case, his mind most have been struck with a discovery, made and communicated under circumstances so peculiar; and nothing was more natural, than, that on returning home, the “confused notion,” (for as yet it could be nothing more,) which he had acquired on the subject of electricity, should have found its way into a poetical effusion, which begins with asking,

What penetrating mind can rightly form
A faint idea of a raging storm?
Who can express, of elements the war,
And noisy thunder roaring from afar?
3

The production of the poem, according to this explanation, must be referred to his fifteenth, or sixteenth, or probably seventeenth year; written it certainly was, in the course of that period, and not earlier.

4

Among the friends whom Wilkie acquired at college, he had the pleasure of ranking Robertson, [note] Hume, [note] Home, Fergusson, [note] and Adam Smith, [note] all names of the first renown in Scottish literature. In his estimate of their relative merits, he used to give the preference for sound judgment to Robertson, and for invention to Adam Smith. The latter ascription has surprised most people. It would seem that Wilkie had mistaken the merely metaphysical ingenuity,
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.41
which gave birth to the Theory of Moral Sentiments, for that power of producing new images and new combinations, to which the name of invention more properly belongs. Instead of excelling his compeers, there was scarcely one of them to whom Smith was not inferior in this respect. With Hume and Home, at least, he can hold no competition.

5

After obtaining his licence as a preacher of the Gospel, Mr. Wilkie withdrew entirely to Dalmeny, there to await such ecclesiastical preferment as fortune might have in store for him; assisting only occasionally in some neighbouring churches, and devoting his chief attention to the labours of the farm, while poetry and philosophy occupied his leisure hours. Ten years had passed away in this humble sort of life, when he happened to be called upon to perform divine service in the church of Ratho; the charge of which was then vacant. Among his hearers on the occasion was the patron of the living, the Earl of Lauderdale. [note] His lordship was so much pleased with the style in which the young probationer acquitted himself in the pulpit, that after the service of the day was over, he invited him to dine with him at the family seat of Hatton; and to stay there all night.

6

The favourable impression which his lordship had conceived of Wilkie, was greatly heightened by their interview; he found in his guest a man of agreeable, though somewhat eccentric manners, and of various and profound information. Pleased that his patronage placed it in his power to raise so worthy an individual from obscurity, his lordship, next morning, presented Wilkie with the presentation to the vacant living.

7

Almost immediately after his induction to the pas-
42LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
toral charge of the parish of Ratho, 1753, Mr. Wilkie published at Edinburgh, an epic poem, which had been the fruit of his previous years of contemplative retirement. It was entitled
“The Epigoniad,” and extended to nine books. In Scotland the work was well received; but in England it met with few readers, and was rather severely handled by the Critical and Monthly Reviewers. The subject of the poem is drawn from the fourth Iliad, where Sthenelus gives Agamemnon a short account of the sacking of Thebes.

———when the youth of Greece, by Theseus led,
Return'd to conquer where their fathers bled.
8

These young heroes were known to the Greeks under the name of the Epigoni, or descendants, and for this reason, the author has given to the poem the title of Epigoniad; a name most unfortunately chosen, for as the circumstance from which it was derived was known only to a very few of the learned, the public were not able to conjecture what could be the subject of the poem, and felt little solicitous to inquire after what suggested nothing to expectation. A tradition remained among the Greeks, that Homer [note] had taken Thebes for the subject of a poem, which is lost, and Wilkie seems to have pleased himself with the thought of reviving the work, as well as of treading in the footsteps of the Grecian bard. Had he possessed all the genius however which was requisite for the task, there was a want of policy in undertaking it; the subject and the name were alike infelicitous. It is not in any modern production that the learned will choose to retrace the manners and actions of those heroes, whom Homer and Virgil [note] have immoralized;
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.43
and the world at large could be expected to feel little interest in any new addition to scenes and characters, different from those with which they are familiar, and so far removed from their own times, Accordingly, the Epigoniad, though possessed of great merit as an Epic, and rich in poetic charms, entirely failed in exciting general interest. The sale of the poem among the author's friends in Scotland, having nevertheless exhausted the first edition, a second was published in 1759, to which was added a Dream in the manner of Spenser. A very generous effort was at the same time made to recall the attention of the public to its merits, by Wilkie's old fellow student, Hume, [note] who published a letter to the editors of the “Critical Review,” in which he appealed against their former condemnation of the work, and expatiated at great length and with much fervor of encomium upon its beauties. He represented it as a work abounding in “sublime beauties,” and as “one of the ornaments of our language.” Among the specimens by which he illustrated his criticism, he referred particularly to the Episode on the death of Hercules, in the seventh book, as exhibiting a sublimity of imagination and energy of style which entitle it to compare with any poetry in the English language. “Nothing,” he adds, “can be more pathetic than the complaint of Hercules, when the poison of the Centaur's robe begins to prey upon him.” As the passage is perhaps the best in the poem, and may serve both to shew the degree of discrimination which Hume mingled with his praise, and to furnish a fair idea of Wilkie's capacity at a poet, the repetition of the quotation will not, it is hoped, be deemed out of place.

44LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Sov'reign of heav'n and earth! whose boundless sway
The fates of men and mortal things obey,
If e'er delighted, from the courts above,
In human form you sought Alcmene's love;
If fame's unchanging voice to all the earth
With truths proclaims you, author of my birth;
Whence, from a course of spotless glory run,
Successful toils and wreaths of triumph won,
Am I thus wretched? Better that, before,
Some monster fierce had drank my streaming gore,
Or crush'd by Cacus, foe to Gods and men,
My batter'd brains had strew'd his rocky den;
Than, from my glorious toils and triumphs past,
To fall subdu'd by female arts at last.
O cool my boiling blood, ye winds that blow
From mountains loaded with eternal snow,
And crack the icy cliffs: in vain! in vain!
Your rigour cannot quench my raging pain!
For round this heart the furies wave their brands,
And wring my entrails with their burning hands.
Now, bending from the skies, O wife of Jove!
Enjoy the vengeance of thy injur'd love:
For fate, by me, the thund'rer's guilt atones,
And, punish'd in her son, Alcmene groans:—
The object of your hate shall soon expire;
Fix'd on my shoulders, preys a net of fire;
Whom, nor the toils nor dangers could subdue,
By false Eurystheus dictated from you;
Nor tyrants lawless, nor the monstrous brood
Which haunts the desert or infests the flood;
Nor Greece, nor all the barb'rous climes that lie
Where Phœbus ever points his golden eye,
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.45
A woman hath o'erthrown! Ye Gods! I yield
To female arts, unconquer'd in the field.
My arms—alas! are these the same that bow'd
Anteus, and his giant force subdu'd?
That dragg'd Nemea's monster from his den?
And slew the dragon in his native fen?
Alas! alas! their mighty muscles fail,
While pains infernal ev'ry nerve assail:
Alas! alas! I feel in streams of woe
These eyes dissolve, before untaught to flow.
Awake, my virtue, oft in dangers try'd,
Patient in toils, in deaths unterrify'd,
Rouse to my aid; nor let my labours past
With fame achiev'd, be blotted by the last.
Firm and unmov'd, the present shock endure;
Once triumph, and for ever rest secure.
9

Mr. Hume, in the same letter, thus speaks of the “Dream in the manner of Spenser,” which Wilkie had appended to the second edition of the Epigoniad. “The poet supposes himself to be introduced to Homer, [note] who censures his poem in some particulars, and excuses it in others. This poem is indeed a species of apology for the Epigoniad, written in a very lively and elegant manner; it may be compared to a well-polished gem of the purest water, and cast into the most beautiful form. Those who would judge of our author's talents for poetry, without perusing his larger work, may satisfy their curiosity by running over this short poem. They will see the same force of imagination and harmony of numbers which distinguish his longer performance; and may thence, with small ap-
46LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
plication, receive a favourable impression of our author's genius.”

10

Notwithstanding this ardent tribute from friendly criticism, and the great weight of Hume's authority, there appears to have been in the Epigoniad a gravitating tendency, which no praise could counteract The poem continued, as before, little read, and has become every day less and less known. Mr. Chalmers [note] has indeed included it among his “Works of the English Poets;” but with a qualification which deprives the compliment of all value, and does upon the whole little credit to his independence of opinion. “As I have nothing (he says) to oppose to the neglect with which Wilkie's poems have been treated, I hope I shall be pardoned for inserting Mr. Hume's very elaborate criticism, whatever effect it may produce.” The plain truth after all, is, that the Epigoniad, though distinguished by great powers of invention, by a perfectly intimate acquaintance with what we may be allowed to call classic costume, by strength though not ease of diction, and by frequent shooting lights which remind one of the presence of perpetual day, is not altogether such a poem as persons will read, who read with any other purpose than that of reading themselves asleep.

11

In 1759, Mr. Wilkie was elected Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of St. Andrew's. On removing thither, he took his sisters to reside with him and attend to his domestic affairs. At this period his whole fortune did not exceed £200. With this sum he purchased a few acres of almost waste land, in the neighbourhood of St. Andrew's; but by
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.47
his skill in husbandry speedily brought them into a state of cultivation, which was the surprise and envy of his neighbours. As a teacher, he is said to have displayed great knowledge of science, with an easy and familiar mode of illustration, which fixed the attention as well as the regard of his pupils. He was, at the same time, extremely close in his mode of reasoning; and to those who came to his lectures without a sufficient preparation of geometry, and habits of strict attention, it was apt to appear obscure.

12

In 1766, the University of St. Andrew's conferred upon Mr. Wilkie the degree of Doctor in Divinity.

13

After a long estrangement from the Muses, he produced, in 1768, a small collection of “Fables,” which he dedicated to his early patron, the Earl of Lauderdale. [note] Although superior in merit to his Epigoniad, they were attended with even less success. They were obvious imitations of the manner of Gay; [note] but though not always original, were distinguished by a propriety of sentiment and care of expression, which even Gay has not often excelled. Sensible of the objection which existed to the want of novelty in his precepts, the author has thus endeavoured to obviate it:

You say 'tis vain in verse or prose
To tell what every body knows,
And stretch invention to express
Plain truths, which all men will confess:
Go on, the argument to mend,
Prove that to know, is to attend,
And that we ever keep in sight
What reason tells us once is right;
48LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
Till this is done, you must excuse
The zeal and freedom of my muse,
In hinting to the human kind
What few deny, but fewer mind.
14

To these sensible arguments, it may be added, that some are formed to propose new maxims, whilst others find themselves more fitted to illustrate those already received. Nor is it easy to be determined who contributes most to the interests of morality, the individual who advances new maxims, which, on account of that very novelty, are likely to meet with opposition; or he, who, adopting positions universally assented to, is at more leisure to decorate them with the charms of ornamented diction and brilliancy of fancy.

15

Of these Fables, one of the best is “ The Hare and the Partan *;” the chief design of which, the author tells us; was “to give a true specimen of the Scottish dialect, where it may be supposed to be most perfect, namely, in Midlothian, the seat of the capital.” The style is precisely that of the vulgar Scottish; and that the matter might be suitable to it, the poet has chosen for the subject, a little story adapted to the ideas of peasants. It is a tale commonly told in Scotland among the country people, and may be looked upon as of the kind of these aniles fabellæ, in which Horace [note] observes, his country neighbours were accustomed to convey their rustic philosophy. After proposing the moral, that no creature is so contemptible as to be safely made the object of derision, the author proceeds:


* Crab.
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.49
Ye hae my moral, if I am able
I'll fit it nicely wi' a fable.
A hare, ae morning chanc'd to see
A partan creeping on a lee,
A fishwife wha was early out
Had drapt the creature thereabout.
Mawkin bumbas'd and frighted sair
To see a thing but hide and hair,
Which if it stur'd not, might be taen
For naething ither than a stane,
A squnt-wise wambling, sair beset
Wi' gerse and rashes like a net,
First thought to rin for't (for bi kind
A hare's nae fechter ye maun mind),
But seeing that wi' a' its strength
It scarce could creep a tether length,
The hare grew baulder and cam near,
Turn'd playsome, and fargat her fear.
Quoth Mawkin, “Was there ere in nature
Sae feckless and sae poor a creature?
It scarcely kens, or I'm mistaen,
The way to gang or stand its lane.
See how it steitters†; I'll be bund
To rin a mile of up-hill grund
Before it gets a rig-braid frae
The place its in, though doon the brae.”
Mawkin wi' this began to frisk,
An' thinkin there was little risk,
Clapt baith her feet on partan's back,
And turn'd him awald† in a crack.

* Without hide and hair. †Staggers. †Topsy turvy.
50LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
To see the creature sprawl, her sport
Grew twice as good, yet prov'd but short,
For, patting wi' her fit in play,
Just whar the partan's nippers lay,
He gript it fast, which made her squeel
And think she bourded wi' the deil;
She strave to rin, and made a fistle,
The tither catch'd a tough bur thrisle
Which held them baith till o'er a dyke
A herd came stending* wi' his tyke†,
And fell'd poor Mawkin, sarely ruing
Whan forc'd to drink of her ain brewin'.
16

The success of “the Fables” would probably have been less indifferent, had they turned less on the author's personal disappointment as an Epic writer. The greater part of them are undisguised hits at the critics, for not discovering in his Epigoniad a merit which it did not possess. The public saw with pain this carping at a judgement which they had so fully confirmed, and shewed, by a continuance of their disfavour, the folly of contemning general opinion. Dr. Wilkie seems to have sat for his own picture in one of his Fables, The Young Lady and the Looking Glass:

To bid your friend his errors mend
Is almost certain to offend;
Though you in softest terms advise,
Confess him good, admit him wise,
In vain you sweeten the discourse—
He thinks you call him fool, or worse.

* Leaping. † Dog.
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.51
17

And to have forgot the parting reproof in his Dialogue between “ The Author and a Friend:”

Then take your way, 'tis folly to contend
With those who're told their faults, but will not mend.
18

Dr. Wilkie had almost all his life been subject to ague, and, in order to escape its visitations, he fell into habits which were ultimately the means of shortening his days. To keep up a perspiration, he lay in bed under a load of no fewer than twenty-four blankets; and to avoid all chance of the cold damp, he never slept from home without requesting to be indulged with bed-linen previously used by some of the family! When he went out, he wore several flannel jackets, waistcoats, and top coat, and over all a great coat and gown, presenting altogether a grotesque magnitude of appearance. His frame became, by this system of living, rapidly debilitated, and after a lingering illness, he died on the 10th October, 1772, in his fifty-second year.

19

Although Wilkie commenced his professorship with only £200, he is said to have died worth £3000, accumulated in the course of thirteen years by parsimonious living. His character in this respect has, however, been well vindicated by those who knew him intimately. “Much of his life,” it is truly said, [note] “was spent in poverty; and a strong sense of the value of independence induced him to become saving as soon as he could spare any thing from his immediate wants, and the necessity of his sisters, for whom he appears to have provided with all the affectionate concern of a parent. By avoiding the expenses of hospitality in a hospitable country, he incurred the
52LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
suspicion of avarice; but he was known to be liberal to the poor, and ought not to be blamed if he preferred the silent dictates of his heart to the ostentatious fashion of society.” It is said by another authority, that “he was in the habit of spending very considerable sums to relieve poor housekeepers struggling under the oppression of poverty,” and that “in the most private manner he used to exact a promise of secrecy from those who were the objects of his bounty.”

20

The manners of Dr. Wilkie, in private life, were altogether extremely eccentric. The bulk of dress which helped to ruin his constitution, was relieved by no sort of elegance or attention; his clothes seemed as if thrown upon him by a pitchfork, and as if a brush they never knew; his wig was always awry; and such was his habitual carelessness of appearances, that when a preacher, he would even forget when in the pulpit to take his hat off his head: add to these circumstances, that he used tobacco to excess, and the picture of a moving piece of dusty lumber will be complete.

21

His fits of musing were many, and contributed undoubtedly, in no small degree, to confirm his habits of negligence; they made him often ridiculous in private society, and something still worse in public. When any thing risible occurred to him in these silent dreamings, he would, without saying a word, and in whatever company, burst into a loud fit of laughter, which he afterwards explained as well as he could, and, as may be expected, seldom happily. At the convivial table, such absences were only calculated to provoke a smile; but when they were seen interfering
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.53
with even his most serious public duties—at one time, forgetting to pronounce the blessing after public service, at another, dispensing the sacrament without consecrating the elements—one could not help wishing that he had been altogether a poet, and no divine.

22

As a poet, Wilkie had two remarkable peculiarities. He was the first, and perhaps the only individual of the fraternity, who was deeply conversant with that most unpoetical of all subjects, Fluxions; and he never could read aloud the smoothest verse, in such a manner, as to preserve either the measure or the scale, although his own compositions in verse are not deficient in smoothness or elegance.

23

When actively engaged in conversation, and perhaps then only, Wilkie shone to advantage in private. The originality of his opinions, delivered with a bold freedom of manner, and enlivened by frequent sallies of wit and humour, made always a great impression on his hearers; and there were few good judges who did not leave his company with a high opinion of his talents. He was particularly happy in transferring to his conversation, whether on literary or philosophical subjects, the phrases and terms of common life. Having lived during the earlier part of his life, alternately with the literary men about the University of Edinburgh, and with the farmers in his own neighbourhood, he had acquired a perfect intimacy with the modes of both; and was thus qualified to shine equally amidst a company of peasants or of philosophers.

24

Of his literary friends, most of whom were more fortunate than himself in their literary adventures, Wilkie always spoke without chagrin or envy. He
54LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
was angry with the critics for their want of mercy to his
Epigoniad, but not displeased that they discovered in the Douglas, [note] and in the Histories of the House of Tudor and of Stuart, some of the first productions of the age. He was fond of telling anecdotes of their authors, and describing the peculiarities of their genius, disposition, and habits. It is said, however, that towards the close of his life, he broke off all correspondence with Hume [note] and Robertson; [note] though for what reason we are not informed.

25

A handsome tribute to the memory of Wilkie was paid by another son of the Muses, Robert Fergusson, who had studied under him, and had been much indebted to his friendship. It was published in the first number of Ruddiman's [note] Weekly Magazine which appeared after the announcement of Dr. Wilkie's death. It has great merit, and is happily not too long for transcription.

Eclogue to the Memory of Dr. William Wilkie.
geordie and davie.
Geordie.
Blaw saft my reed and kindly to my maen,
Weel may ye thole a saft and dowie strain,
Nae mair to you shall shepherds in a ring
Wi' blythness skip, or lassies lilt and sing;
Sic sorrow now maun sadden ilka e'e,
An' ilka waefu shepherd grieve wi' me.
Davie.
Wharefor begin a sad and dowie strain,
Or banish lilting frae the Fifan plain?
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.55
Though simmer's gane, an' we nae langer view
The blades o' claver wat we' pearls o' dew,
Cauld winter's blackest blasts we'll eithly cowr,
Our eldins driven, an' our har'st is owr;
Our rucks fu' thick are stackit i' the yard,
For the Yule feast a sautit mast's prepar'd.
The ingle nook supplies the simmer fields,
An' aft as mony gleefu' maments yields;
Swyth man, fling a' your sleepy springs awa',
An on your canty whistle gie's a blaw:
Blythness, I trow, maun lighten ilka e'e,
An' ilka canty callant sing like me.
Geordie.
Na, na; a canty spring wad now impart
Just threefald sorrow to my heart;
Thof to the weet my ripen'd aits had fawn,
Or shakewinds owr my rigs wi' pith had blawn,
To this I could hae said, “I care na by,”
Nor found occasion now my cheeks to dry.
Crosses like thae, or lack o' warld's gear,
Are naething whan we tyne a friend that's dear.
Ah! waes me for you, Willy! mony a day
Did I wi' you, on yon broom thackit brae
Haud aff my sheep, an' let them careless gang,
To hearken to your cheery tale or sang,
Sangs that for ay, on Caledonia's strand
Shall fit the foremost mang her tunefu' band.
I dreamt yestreen his deadly wraith I saw,
Gaing by my een, as white's the driven snaw;
My colley Ringie, youf'd an' yowl'd a' night,
Cour'd an' crap near me in an unco fright.
I waken'd fley'd, an' shook baith lith and limb,
A cauldness took use, an' my sight grow dim;
56LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.
I kent that it forespak approachin wae,
Whan my poor doggie was disturbit sae.
Nae sooner did the day begin to dawn
Than I beyont the knowe sae speedy ran,
Whare I was keppit wi' the heavy tale
That sets ilk dowie sangster to bewail.
Davie.
An' wha on Fifan bents can weel refuse
To gie a tear of tribute to his muse?
Farewell ilk cheery spring, ilk canty note
Be daffin, an' ilk idle play forgot;
Bring ilka herd the mournfu', mournfu' boughs,
Rosemary sad, and ever-dreary yews;
Thae sal be steepit i' the saut, saut tear,
To weet wi' hallow'd draps his sacred bier,
Whase sangs will aye in Scotland be rever'd,
While slow-gawn owsen turn the flow'ry swaird,
While bonny lambies lick the dews of spring,
While gaudsmen whisle, or while birdies sing.
Geordie.
'Twas na for weel tim'd verse or sangs alane,
He bore the bell frae ilka shepherd swain;
Nature to him had gien a kindly lore,
Deep a' her mystic ferlies to explore;
For a' her secret workings he could gie
Reasons, that wi' her principles agree.
Ye saw yoursel how weel his mailin thrave,
Ay better faughed and snodded than the lave;
Lang had the thristles and the dockens been
In use to wag their taps upo' the green,
Whare now his bonny rigs delight the view,
An' thrivin hedges drink the callar dew.
POETS — WILLIAM WILKIE.57
Davie.
They tell me, Geordie, he had sic a gift,
That scarce a starnie blinkit frae the lift,
But he wou'd some ald-warld name for it find
As gart him keep it freshly in his mind;
For this some ca'd him an uncanny wight;
The clash gaed round, “he had the second sight,”
A tale that never fail'd to be the pride
Of grannies spinnin at the ingle side.
Geordie.
But now he's gane, an' Fame that whan alive,
Seenil lets ony o' her vot'ries thrive,
Will frae his shinin name, a' motes withdraw,
And on her loudest trump her praises blaw.
Lang may his sacred banes untroubl'd rest!
Lang may his truff in gowans gay be drest!
Scholars and bards unheard of yet shall come
And stamp memorials on his grassy tomb,
Which in yon ancient kirk-yard shall remain
Fam'd as the urn that hads the Mantuan swain.
[note]
W. W.