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erally feeble, the rhymes often incorrect, and the disposition of the topics injudicious. It has all the stiffness, as well as the incorrectness of a first production.
"The first essays in verse are rudely writ,
The numbers rough, and unchastised the wit."
'Clyde,' the second form which it assumed, in the edition of 1764, extends to above 1,000 lines, and in this edition to nearly double that number. Even in its present form, it never received the finishing hand of the author, whose engagement with the magistrates of Greenock prevented him from completing it. The manuscript which has been chiefly used in this edition, contains many large blanks, many cancelled passages, and many rude sketches too incorrect for publication. Many passages, too, have been so enfeebled by expansion, that they have lost the air of originality which they possessed in the early copies. Welsted observes, that "works of originality differ from imitations, as fruits brought to maturity by artificial fires differ from those that are ripened by the natural heat of the sun, and the indulgence of a kindly climate." (1) The same difference is frequently found between the spontaneous effusions of an author's genius, and those laborious revisals which lose in ease and spirit what they gain in correctness. In Wilson's last manuscript, the expansion of the original is often equally injurious to the correctness of the language and the accuracy of the description. In preparing this edition for the press, the enlarged but incorrect manuscript has been carefully collated with the edition of 1764, and with the manuscript sketch of Nethan; and those various readings have been uniformly selected, which appeared to be most poetical and congruous with
(1) Welsted's Works, 1787, p. 141.
the context. This account of the edition offers the best apology for the imperfect or Scottish rhymes which sometimes occur in the poem, the indistinct delineation of several scenes, and the harsh unmusical lines which sometimes mar the most vigorous passages; and to use the expression of Welsted,
"Mix the Scotch thistle with the English bays."
The versification, however, is generally correct, and flows with much of the ease of Dryden; though the asperity of the proper names, which the author has often found it impossible to mould to harmony, sometimes approximates it to the harshness of Blackmore. The want of dignity in many of these names, has sometimes rendered it difficult to avoid the burlesque. This is a circumstance which renders loco-descriptive poetry peculiarly difficult, and suggests one of the probable causes why it has been so little attempted in Scotland. Many proper names in Scotland are significant in the Scottish dialect, and have a ludicrous effect when introduced into an English composition. Wilson's 'Clyde' is the first Scottish loco-descriptive poem of any merit, and it is still the only national one of the species. In the early part of last century was published 'Don,' a loco-descriptive poem, equally devoid of merit in sentiment and in versification. The author has attempted to adorn it with some flowers of antiquity; but they withered in his unskilful grasp. In 1797, a garbled edition of this poem was published at Aberdeen, by a schoolmaster named Charles Dawson, who, because he had added some superficial notes, has, by a skilful species of plagiarism, claimed the whole poem. During the last century, some loco-descriptive sketches were published in the Scottish Magazines, but without acquiring even a temporary reputation. In England, however, since Denham's 'Cooper's Hill,' vari
ous models have been produced in this species of composition; which are enumerated by Dr. J. Warton in his edition of Pope's Works.
The fundamental subject of the local poem, as Dr. Johnson properly observes, is some particular landscape, to be poetically described, with the addition of such embellishments as may be supplied by historical retrospection or incidental meditation. (1) The subject which Wilson proposed to himself, has the merit of unity; a merit in which the greater part of descriptive poems are extremely defective. He describes the course of the Clyde, delineates the various scenes which it presents, and diversifies his narrative by historical allusions, suggested by the particular scenes which he describes. The course of the river Clyde pointed out a natural and perspicuous arrangement of the different scenes; a quality in which the local poem is generally defective, as it is difficult to discover, in many landscapes, a point from which the description commences better than from another. The episodes are frequently interesting, and arise naturally from the description; but they sometimes attract our attention too much from the principal subject. The influence of the central fire, to use the expression of Laharpe, (*) which ought to pervade the poem, to combine its different episodes in one general design, and to predominate in all its parts, is not always perceptible in the various digressions. The historical allusions refer to the Scottish history, as detailed by Fordun, Boethius, Major, and Buchanan. In this edition of 'Clyde,' the topics of general description are more skilfully connected with particular scenery than in that of 1764, and blend more easily with the localities of the poem. His descriptions of rural scenes and occupations are always true to
(1) Johnson's Life of Denham, ap. Lives of the English Poets. (2) Laharpe's Lycée, vol. viii. p. 317.
nature, 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 and Thomson; as fox-hunting, stag-hunting, hay-making, reaping, the music of birds, and the production of insects. In various other topics he may be advantageously compared with later descriptive poets. Thus, his characteristic description of forest trees, may be compared with that of Gisborne in his 'Walks in a Forest :'
Chief of the glade, the oak, its foliage stained
How wide his arms the stately ash extends;
In the localities of description, where the subject admits of vivid contrast or picturesque delineation, Wilson frequently exhibits both energy and discrimination. The
THE LIFE OF JOHN WILSON.
dark majesty of Tinto, the towering grandeur of Ailsa, the falls of the Clyde, which in an uncommon degree unite sublimity and picturesque beauty, were subjects calculated to excite the enthusiasm of poetical fancy; but many of the names which occur in 'Clyde,' would have found a more appropriate place in topography than in poetry. The style of description which he employs, consists rather in the accurate enumeration of particular objects, than in the expression of the mental feelings they are fitted to inspire. Instead of describing the effect of a scene on the mind of the observer, he delineates, piece by piece, the different parts of which it is composed. For this reason, his enumerations of objects sometimes present an obscure or a confused picture; his groups are silent and dead; and from his delineations of natural objects, we feel not the emotions with which the view of nature affects us. Sometimes, however, his verses present not the mere delineation of a scene, but the description of a person observing a scene, whose mind reflects, like a mirror, the objects with which he is surrounded, and receives the character and colouring with which they are invested. Whether we regard his versification, or facility of delineating natural objects, Wilson ranks high as a loco-descriptive poet. He cannot indeed aspire to the highest degree of excellence; but the present age, more just to deceased poets than that in which they lived, delights in reviving the fame which had been obscured by the blaze of superior reputation. It is to writers of this class that we owe the formation of a great part of poetical phraseology, and the introduction of many new images into poetry. They provide the rough materials, which are moulded into form by a superior genius, as the most magnificent cities have risen from the ruins of towns less splendid.