« PreviousContinue »
To the EARL of EGLINTON.
Edinburgh, January, 1787. As I have but slender pretensions to philosophy, I cannot rise to the exalted ideas of a citizen of the world; but have all those national preju. dices, which I believe glow peculiarly strong in the breast of a Scotchman. There is scarcely any thing to which I am so feelingly alive as the honour and welfare of my country; and, as a poet, I have no higher enjoyment than singing her sons and daughters. Fate had cast my station in the veriest shades of life; but never did a heart pant more ardently, than mine, to be distinguished : though, till very lately, I looked in vain on every side for a ray of light. It is easy then to guess how much I was gratified with the countenance and approbation of one of my country's most illustrious sons, when Mr. Wauchope called on me yesterday on the part of your lordship. Your munificence, my lord, certainly deserves my very grateful acknowledgments; but your patronage is a bounty peculiarly suited to my feelings. I am not master enough of the etiquette of life to know, whether there be not some impropriety in troubling your lordship with my thanks, but my heart whispered me to do it. From the emotions of my inmost soul I do it. Selfish ingratitude I hope I am incapable of; and mercenary servility, I trust I shall ever have so much honest pride as to detest.
To Mrs. DUNLOP
Edinburgh, 15th January, 1787. Yours of the 9th current, which I am this moment honoured with, is a deep reproach to me for ungrateful neglect. I will tell you the real truth, for I am miserably awkward at a fib-I wished to have written to Dr. Moore before I wrote to you; but, though every day since I received yours of Dec. 30th, the idea, the wish, to write to him has constantly pressed on my thoughts, yet I could not for my soul set about it. I know his fame and character, and I am one of “ the sons of little men.” To write him a mere matter-of-fact affair, like a merchant's order, would be disgracing the little character I have; and to write the author of The View of Society and Manners, a letter of sentiment-I declare every artery runs cold at the thought. I shall try, however, to write to him to-morrow or next day. His kind interposition in my behalf I have alrea. dy experienced, as a gentleman waited on me the other day, on the part of lord Eglinton, with ten guineas by way of subscription for two copies of my next edition.
The word you object to, in the mention I have made of my glorious countryman and your immortal ancestor, is, indeed, borrowed from Thomson ; but it does not strike me as an improper epithet. I distrusted my own judgment on your finding fault with it, and applied for the opinion of some of the literati here, who honour me with their critical strictures, and they all allow it to be proper, The song you ask I cannot recollect, and I have not a copy of it. I have not composed any thing on the great Wallace, except what you have seen iu print; and the inclosed, which I will print in
this edition. You will see I have mentioned some others of the name. When I composed my Vision long ago, I had attempted a description of Koyle; of which the additional stanzas are a part, as it originally stood. My heart glows with a wish to be able to do justice to the merits of the saviour of his country, which sooner or later I shall at least attempt.
You are afraid I shall grow intoxicated with my prosperity as a poet; alas, madam, I know myself and the world too well. I do not mean any airs of affected modesty; I am willing to be. lieve that my abilities deserved some notice; but in a most enlightened, informed age and nation, when poetry is and has been the study of men of the first natural genius, aided with all the powers of polite learning, polite books, and polite company-to be dragged forth to the full glare of learned and polite observation, with all my imper. fections of awkward rusticity, and crude unpolished ideas on my head-I assure you, madam, I do not dissemble when I tell you I tremble for the consequences. The novelty of a poet in my obscure situation, without any of those advantages which are reckoned necessary for that character, at least at this time of day, has raised a partial tide of public notice, which has borne me to a height, where I am absolutely, feelingly certain, my abilities are inadequate to support me; and too surely do I see that time when the same tide will leave me, and recede as far perhaps below the mark of truth. I do not say this in the ridiculous affectation of self-abasement and modesty. I have studied myself, and know what ground I occupy; and, however a friend or the world may differ from me in that particular, I stand for my own opinion, in silent resolve, with all the tenaciousness of property. I mention this to you once
* Stanzas in the Vision, beginning “ By stately tower or palace fair,” and ending with the first Duan. E.
for all to disburthen my mind, and I do not wish to hear or say more about it.-But
6 When proud fortune's ebbing tide recedes”
you will bear me witness, that, when my bubble of fame was at the highest, I stood, unintoxicated with the inebriating cup in my hand, looking for. ward with rueful resolve to the hastening time when the blow of calumny should dash it to the ground, with all the eagerness of vengeful triumpha
Your patronizing me and interesting yourself in my fame and character as a poet, I rejoice in ; it exalts me in my own idea ; and whether you can or cannot aid me in my subscription is a trifle. Has a paltry subscription-bill any charms to the heart of a bard, compared with the patronage of the descendant of the immortal Wallace ?
To Dr. MOORE.
1787. Mrs. Dunlop has been so kind as to send me extracts of letters she has had from you, where you do the rustic bard the honour of noticing him and his works. Those who have felt the anxieties and solicitudes of authorship can only know what pleasure it gives to be noticed in such a manner, by judges of the first character. Your criticisms, sir, I receive with reverence ; only I am sorry they mostly came too late : a peccant passage or two that I would certainly have altered were gone to the press.
The hope to be admired for ages is, in by far the greatest part of those even who are authors of
repute, an unsubstantial dream. For my part, my first ambition was, and still my strongest wish is, to please my compeers, the rustic inmates of the hamlet, while ever-changing language and manners shall allow me to be relished and understood. I am very willing to admit that I have some poetr cal abilities; and as few if any writers, either moral or poetical, are intimately acquainted with the elasses of mankind among whom I have chiefly mingled, I may have seen men and manners in a different phasis from what is common, which may assist originality of thought. Still I know very well the novelty of my character has by far the greatest share in the learned and polite notice I have lately had : and in a language where Pope and Churchill have raised the laugh, and Shenstone and Gray drawn the tear; where Thomson and Beattie have painted the landscape, and Lyttelton and Collins described the heart, I am not vain enough to hope for distinguished poetic fame
FROM Dr. MOORE.
Clifford-street, January 23d, 1787. I have just received your letter, by which I find I have reason to complain of my friend Mrs. Dunlop, for transmitting to you extracts from my letters to her, by much too freely and too carelessly written for your perusal. I must forgive her, however, in consideration of her good intention, as you will forgive me, I hope, for the freedom I use with certain expressions, in consideration of my admiration of the poems in general. If I may judge of the author's disposition from his works, with all the other good qualities of a poet, he has not the irritable temper ascribed to that race of men by one of their own number, whom you have the happiness to l'esemble in ease and curious fe