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George Taylor


Anno 1795


O, the personal history of Wilkie, « the Scottish Homer,” there is no written memorial. Though his writings are not more distinguished for learning and genius, than his life was remarkable fez originality of manners, his name is not to be found in any colledion of literary biography.

b 1983 a design was formed of writing his life, to be prefixed to a new edition of his poems, by the Rev Dr. William Thomson, whose abilities, in other literary provinces, have justly obtained him the fan&tion of public applause. In the prosecution of this design, Dr. Thomson was encouraged, by the approbation of the late Earl of Lauderdale, and affitted by information obtained by Mr. Andrew Daizel, Professor of Greek in the University of Edinburgh, from his cousin che Rev. Robert Lifton, minister of Aberdour, the Rev. James Robertson, minister of Ratho, and the Rev. Dr. Thomas Robertson, minister of Dalmeny. After having made some progress in digesting the materials, the intended edition of his poems not meeting with suitable encouragement, Dr. Thomsoa was compelled to defift; and his friends are disappointed in the hope of seeing justice dose to his memory, by the same masterly pen that has enriched English literature by the * Continuation of Watson's History of Philip III.” the “Tranflation of Cuningham's History of Great Britain," and other ingenious and elegant performances.

It is with becoming diffidence the present writer takes upon him a task which has been dedized by Dr. Thomson ; but, in collecting the works of this poet with those of other eminent peets of our nation, it is incumbent upon him to prefix fome account of his life, which, however inadequate to his merits, or unsatisfactory to his friends, may not be altogether unwelcome to the public, who, it has been often observed, will always take an interest in those persons from whose laboers they have derived profit or delight.

The fact fared in the present account, are partly taken from some detached portions of Dr. Thomson's unfinished narrative, and partly from the original information furnished by Mr. Robertson, Mr. Liston, and Dr. Robertson, ebligingly communicated to the present writer, by Dr. Thomson, through the kindness of Professor Dalzel, whose laudable endeavours to vindicate the fame, and to preserve the memory of this poet, entitle him to the gratitude of the lovers of dalical and polite literature.

William Wilkie was born at Echlin, in the parish of Dalmeny, in the county of Welt-Lothian, Odober s. 1721. His great-grandfather was a younger son of the family of Wilkie, of Rathobyres, in the parish of Ratho, one of the oldest families in Mid-Lothian ; and the undoubted chief of the Wikies. His grandfather rented the farm of Echlin, and purchased a part of the estate of Rabosyres, which he transmitted with the farm to his fun, the poet's father, who was a worthy, Eberal, and intelligent man, never opulent, on the contrary, poor, and rather unfortunate through life. His mither was a woman of distinguished prudence and understanding, and able, it is laid, to express ber thoughts in the most grammatical manner, and proper words on every subject.

He received his early education at the parish school of Dalmený, under the care of Mr. Riddel, a very repecable and successful teacher. Ac school, he obtained the reputation of a boy of excel. kat parts, and op miany occasions discovered marks of that peculiarity and fertility of genius that 6 remarkably characterised his futurs life.

He discovered an early propensity to the study of poetry, and began to write verses in his tenth year, as appears by the following description of a Storm, written at that age, and published by Dr. Robertson, in the oth voł. of " The Statistical Account of Scotland," which must be allowed to be a very correct and manly performance for a boy of ten.

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 ?
This subject is superior to my skill;
Yet l'll begin, to show I want not will.

A pitchy cloud displays itself on high;
And with its sable mantle veils the sky:
Fraught with the magazine of heaven does throw
Boles barb'd with fire upon the world below.
All nature shakes and the whole heavens smoke;
Nor can the gross black cloud sustain the shock :
But op'ning from his magazines doth roll,
Thick smoke and flames of fire from pole to pole.
Thence hail, Snow, vapour, mix'd with flames of fire,
With conjunc force againit the earth conspire.
Monsters of sea and land do loudly roar,
And make the deep resound from shore to More.
The spumy waves come rolling from afar,
And with loud jars declare the wat'ry war.
They upward mount, and raise their crests on high,
And beat the middle regions of the tky.
Downwards they fall upon the swelling deep,
And toss the rigging of some low sunk ship :

Upwards they tow'r and falling down again,
They bury men and cargo in the main.
The boiling deep doth from her low sunk cell
Throw out black waves resembling those of heil.
They forward' roll and hideously do roar,

And vent their rage against the rocky shore. At the age of thirteen, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, where he distinguished him. felf in the different classes of languages, philosophy and theology; and formed many of those friendships and connections which afforded him much happiness through life.

Among the number of his fellow collegians, with whom he lived in habits of the closest inti. macy, were Dr. Robertson, Mr. John Home, Dr. M'Ghie, and Professor Cleghorn. Dr. Robertson afterwards and Mr. Home figured high in the literary world. Dr. M'Ghie went to London, obcained the friendhip of Dr. Johnson, and became a member of the Ivy-lane Club. Professor Cleghorn, a man of great promise, died young.

His intelle&ual faculties of every fort now began to make a rapid progress, the cause of which may, in a great measure, be attributed to the conversation of the companions he chanced to find in the university, and to the societies which, about that time, began to be formed among the fu. dents for their mutual improvement in literary composition, philofophical disquisition, and public Speaking, in which his talents found ample scope and encouragement.

His conversation with men of taste and learning, and the excitement which their example would give to his emulation, would do more towards the improvement of his mind than any lectures he could attend, or any mode of study he could pursue. The present writer would not, however, have it thought, that he conceives either of these to be without their use; he would only affirm, that they hold a fecondary place, when compared with the society of fach men as it was his felicity to find contemporary students in the university.

It was likewise very fortunate for him, that, during the course of his education at Edinburgh, he became known to David Hume and Dr. Ferguson, and, at a later period, to Dr. Smith, by all of whom he was held in a higher light than a common acquaintance.

In literary societies, and private conversation, he had an opportunity of being thoroughly acquainted with the capacities, as well as the tempers and dispositions of his contemporaries.

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