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spent in its arrangement, during the intervals of severer study; and regret at bidding adieu to the investigation of Scottish literary antiquities, a subject which he can never expect to resume.
EDINBURGH, Dec. 20, 1802.
THE LIFE OF
In the biography of literary men, it is a common observation, that a paucity of incidents may be naturally expected in the life of a recluse scholar, whose history is generally comprehended in the account of his productions. Though my materials are scanty, I am not inclined to use this apology for writing a plain narrative instead of a romance; and am content to have saved from oblivion a few notices concerning the only locodescriptive poet whom Scotland has produced.
JOHN WILSON, author of 'Clyde,' was born in the vicinity of Lanark June 30, 1720. He was the youngest son of William Wilson, a farmer on the estate of Corehouse, in the parish of Lesmahago. William Wilson, in imitation of his father, conjoined the occupation of blacksmith with the cultivation of his farm. Before the introduction of the present system of agriculture, which has nearly extirpated the middle class of peasantry in Scotland, this practice was extremely common among the Scottish farmers, but has fallen into disuse since the abolition of small farms. His youngest son being precluded, by his feeble and delicate constitution, from those occupations which require personal vigour, was intended for a learned profession. The debility of his constitution, which prevented him from joining in the
more active amusements of youth, did not repress the vivacity of his mind; and the quickness of apprehension which he early displayed, attracted the patronage of Mr. Somerville, to whom the estate of Corehouse then belonged. At a period rather later than usual he was sent to the grammar school of Lanark, then ably conducted by a Mr. Thomson, who married the sister of the author of the 'Seasons.' At this seminary his progress in literature was uncommonly rapid; and the marks of genius which he exhibited, were viewed with flattering approbation by the gentlemen and the clergymen of the neighbouring districts. But unfortunately his father soon afterwards died; and the circumstances of his mother did not enable her to support the expense of his education. He was, therefore, at the age of fourteen, obliged to leave the school of Lanark, and was employed in private tuition till 1746, when he was permanently settled as parochial schoolmaster of Lesmahago. The general features of character are commonly impressed by the females who tend our infancy, and with whom we associate in early life. It is probable, therefore, that Mr. Wilson derived many mental advantages from the society of his mother, to which he was longer confined than usual by his delicate constitution. She was a woman of great propriety of conduct, and had received a superior education, which, in her widowhood and decline of life, qualified her for executing the semiparental duties of an instructress of youth. She possessed a vein of that comic but innocent humour, for which her son was afterwards distinguished.
On June 14, 1751, Mr. Wilson married Miss Agnes Brown, a young woman of amiable manners, and sensibility of temper, who became the mother of nine children. His character was now developed, his mind had acquired strength, and his views had assumed a deter
minate direction. The situation of schoolmaster was more respectable than at present, as well as comparatively easy in circumstances. The progress of society had not then separated, by so wide an interval, the situations of the laborious teacher of youth, and the minister of religious instruction to more mature age. The schoolmaster formed the connecting link between the minister of a parish and his parishioners, and not unfrequently between the peasants and the higher classes. But the process of tracing and retracing the simplest elements of learning, has a tendency to limit the range of thought. The habit of maintaining an air of superiority among boys, tends to produce an adventitious aspect of importance among men; and this habit is stiffened into formality, by real superiority to the peasants in information, and by comparative leisure for reflection. Among this useful class of men, therefore, these peculiarities are very observable; and they are frequently combined with a caustic humour, and a shrewdness of observation, which give them a greater zest. The facility of mingling with every form of life and manners, from the most simple and rustic to the most polished and refined, afforded Mr. Wilson scope for observation. He had marked the characteristic peculiarities of individuals, unravelled their complex motives of action, and treasured up a rich fund of anecdote. Distinguished for the poignancy of his humour, his society was eagerly courted by every class of men. Having improved his taste by an accurate study of the ancient models, his poetical efforts began to assume a more perfect form, and to become known in a wider circle. (1) His first publication was a Dramatic
(1) I am informed by the Rev. Mr. Hall of Lesmahago, that a brother of Mr. Wilson, by occupation a blacksmith, possessed likewise a poetical turn, and published some ELEGIES, which I have never seen. The son of this person, and nephew of our author, is no contemptible poet.
Essay, on the subject which he afterwards more fully developed in his tragedy of Earl Douglas. This little work was inscribed to Archibald duke of Douglas, and was probably the occasion of his introduction to that nobleman, the circumstances of which were rather romantic. On this occasion, his Grace desired Mr. Wilson to sit down with him and drink a glass of wine. After the second glass, the Duke arose very abruptly, rushed into a closet, immediately appeared with a brace of pistols, and with a stern countenance walked thrice around the astonished bard, who fortunately had sufficient presence of mind to show no external sign of fear. His Grace observing no symptom of terror in his countenance, calmly replaced the pistols, sat down at table, and assuming a pleasant countenance, drank Mr. Wilson's health, and informed him that this singular conduct had been assumed to try the firmness of his mind, and to discover whether he had imbibed the opinion of the Duke's mental derangement, which was then currently entertained in the country. In the course of conversation, his Grace regretted the neglect of his own education in the early part of his life, expressed his esteem of learning and genius, and warmly offered Mr. Wilson his interest in any way in which he could promote his views. But before any of his prospects could be realized, the death of the Duke of Douglas deprived him of this powerful patronage; and as the care of his rising family did not allow him to incur any risk in attempting to extricate himself from obscurity, his merit was left to advance itself slowly, in his useful but unambitious vocation. In this situation, however, his poetical pieces were corrected and enlarged; his dramatic essay assumed the more regular form of a tragedy; and a descriptive sketch of the rivulet Nethan, was amplified into the poem of 'Clyde.' His 'Earl Douglas,' and