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John Wilson, [note] the author of “Clyde,” a poem, was born in the parish of Lesmahago, in Lanarkshire, on the 30th June, 1720. He was the son of an industrious, but humble individual, who, to gain an honest livelihood, was obliged to divide his labours between the anvil and the plough; a practice not uncommon in Scotland, before the present system of husbandry put almost entirely an end to the class of small farmers. Being of a feeble and delicate constitution, his parents were desirous of giving him an education which might enable him to earn his bread by some occupation for which bodily vigour is not required; and with this view, they sent him to the grammar school of the neighbouring town of Lanark, a seminary at that time of considerable celebrity. But, when only in his fourteenth year, his father died, and the poverty in which his mother was left, obliged her to take her son from school. Wilson, however, had made such rapid progress in learning, during the short time he was under a master, that he was, even at this early age, able to begin instructing others; and from this period, till he arrived at manhood, maintained himself by the emoluments derived from private tuition. In the year 1746, he was appointed parochial schoolmaster to his native parish, and in this situation he continued for many years.
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In 1764, Wilson published, at Glasgow, his “
In the course of the same year he removed to Rutherglen, on an invitation from some gentlemen who had heard a favorable account of his classical attainments, and who wished their sons to enjoy a better education than that borough afforded.5
A vacancy occurring, in 1767, in the mastership of
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| Dark grows the night! and cold and sharp |
Beat wind and hail, and drenching rain;
| * See Life of |
|170||LIVES OF EMINENT SCOTSMEN.|
| Nought else remains.—“I'll burn my Harp!” |
He cries, and breaks his Harp in twain.
To avoid the temptation of violating his promise which he esteemed
He still, however, devoted himself exclusively to the duties of his function, and, consoled by the attentions of an affectionate domestic circle, as well as of many valued friends, passed the remainder of his days in a state of not unhappy tranquillity.
|POETS — JOHN WILSON.||171|
His personal character appears to have been, in the highest degree,
virtuous and engaging. Excluded, by a hard fate, from courting public notice in the path to which
his genius was adapted, he shone with the ardour of a compressed flame, in private life. No man
had a higher relish for social intercourse, and few persons were qualified for supporting a more
conspicuous part in it. His disposition was gay and good humoured; his manner animated and
jocular; and his observations had a cast of originality, which gave them a peculiar zest. He
possessed an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and stories, characteristic of life and manners.
These he would introduce as they were naturally suggested by the course of conversation, and
relate with a high degree of humour and comic effect.
The poetical fragments found among his papers, seem chiefly to have
been rapid effusions on temporary subjects, or juvenile paraphrases of passages of scripture, with
which he had been struck. Among the latter may be enumerated Translations of
The destruction of his manuscripts, and his forced
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The poem of “
| * This memoir, though published by |
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| Boast not, great Forth, thy
broad majestic tide |
Beyond the graceful modesty of Clyde;
Though fam'd Mæander, in the poet's dream,
Ne'er led through fairer fields his wandering stream,
Bright wind thy masy Links on Stirling plain,
Which, oft departing, still return again;
And wheeling round and round in sportive mood,
The nether stream turns back to meet the upper flood.
However the fact may be as to
| ting, not to he imputed to Dr. L. at that period;
and on the other hand, presents the promise of a skill in describing and unfolding character,
to which Dr. L. never approached. |
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One of the author's briefest references, is to the fate of the unfortunate Mary, Queen of Scots; [note] but it is perhaps among his happiest passages.
| By Crookstone Castle waves the still green yew, |
The first that met the
When, bright in charms, the youthful princess led
Emboss'd in silver, now its branches green
Transcend the myrtle of the Paphian green.
| But dark Langside, from Crookstone view'd afar, |
Still seems to range in pomp the rebel war;
Here, when the moon rides dimly through the sky,
The peasant sees broad dancing standards fly,
And one bright female form, with sword and crown,
Still grieves to view her banners beaten down.
When describing Glasgow and its university, the
| * The preceding note may suggest an explanation of this point. |
|POETS — JOHN WILSON.||175|
| Ye sacred Muses! who my soul inspire |
With true devotion, and with fame's desire;
From earliest youth, though stern and adverse fate
Has chain'd me distant from your sacred seat;
Yet on that seat may every power divine
Propitious smile, and bid your glory shine
O'er all the earth, and, as from Athens, rise
Till your immortal splendors fill the skies.
His descriptions of rural scenes and occupations are faithfully drawn,
and often diversified by striking and picturesque touches. He never appears as a servile imitator,
though several of his topics had been anticipated by Somerville
The description of stag-hunting will afford a favorable specimen of his powers.
| Not so the stately stag, of harmless force; |
In motion grateful, rapid in his course.
Nature in vain his lofty head adorns
With formidable groves of pointed horns.
Soon as the hound's fierce clamour strikes his ear,
He throws his arms behind, and owns his fear;
Sweeps o'er the imprinted grass, the wind outflies;—
Hounds, horses, hunters, horns, still sound along the skies;
Fierce at a storm they pour along the plain;
Their lively chief, still foremost of the train,
With unremitting ardour leads the chace;—
He, trembling, safety seeks in every place;
Drives through the thicket, scales the lofty steep;
Bounds o'er the hills, or darts through valleys deep;
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| Plunges amid the river's cooling tides, |
While strong and quick he heaves his panting sides.
He from afar his lov'd companions sees,
Whom the loud hoop that hurtles on the breeze
Into a crowded phalanx firm had cast;
Their armed heads all outward round them plac'd:
Some desperate band, surrounded, thus appears,
Hedg'd with pretended bayonets and spears:
To these he flies, and begs to be allow'd
To share the danger with the kindred crowd;
But must, by general voice excluded, know
How loath'd the sad society of woe.
The cruel hounds pour round on every hand;
Desperate, he turns to make a feeble stand:
Big tears on tears roll down his harmless face;
He falls, and sues in vain, alas! for grace:
Pitied and prized, he dies. The ponderous prey
The jolly troop in triumph bear away.
The versification is generally correct, and flows with ease, though the asperity of the proper names sometimes approximates it to harshness, and even in a few instances to the burlesque; as when we are told, that the
| ———Campbells, sprung of old O'Dubin's [note] race, |
Old as their hills, still rule their native place.
No ancient chief could like
The weighty war, or range the embattled field.
Towards the conclusion of the poem, we have a personification of the Clyde, congratulating all her tributary streams, on the unpopular peace of 1763. It presents so amusing a contrast to the sentiments
|POETS — JOHN WILSON.||177|
| To whom the parent flood—“My children dear, |
The festive sounds of peace salute mine ear.
Henceforth our peaceful ports, from insult free,
Anchor'd secure, their loaded fleets shall see;
And, to my honour, happy world shall know,
They to a son of mine their safety owe.
Great Bute! [note] who, warm with patriot zeal, arose
To still wild war, and give the world repose;
And having done the good his heart desir'd,
Scorning reward, to shades obscure retir'd.
For all he valued was already given,
Approven of his soul, his prince, and heaven!
He calmly smil'd. Eclips'd ambition rav'd,
To see a world, by worth superior sav'd!!!”
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