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On these poems and some more, which he afterwards composed on the other side of the Atlantic, do his claims for poetical distinction rest. And securely may they so rest, since in them are found not only those beautiful descriptive passages, which sometimes garnish the pages of the Ornithology, but likewise those pieces in which we conceive he mostly excels, namely, Watty and Meg-Eppie and the Deil-Rab and Ringan- The Laurel disputed, &c. all written in our vernacular tongue. These must ever be considered the corner stones of his merit as a maker : for his other pieces written in English, without any ad. mixture of Scotish idiomatic phrases and language, are frequently cumbrous, taudry, and tautological in their style, burying as it were in emptiness of sound or glisteringness of verbiage, the thought to be expressed. It is true that he published ere his taste was sufficiently matured, or his genius fully unfolded, an error which he often regretted, but could not remedy. For ilie faults which the sharp eyed critic inay discover in these poems of juvenility, limnited observation, false embellishment, or door praved taste, no excuse is proffered, because every ingenious reader will be readily inclined to make every allowance the nature of the case may require. In the matter of song-writing, his townsman Tannahill has an evident superiority, but in other respects, is confessedly his inferior. Had he written nothing but Watty and Meg, he would have been honourably remembered. Without exception it is the very best thing of its kind ever written, delineated as it is, with so much graphic cifect, and coloured with so much fidelity. · None but a Scotsman can truly relish it, or fully appreciate the talent it displays. He will place it in conipany with “At Peblis to the play," <. Christis Kirk on the Grene,” and “ Burns' Jolly Beggars," and he may then challenge any nation on earth to cull so choice a garland of dainty and humorous devices from its native poetry. The tender passion Wilson seems never to have felt, in any of its pleasing or distracting degrees of intensity. He sings of love, because it was a fashionable thing with other poets to do so, and he sung therefore of its effects with coldness, indifference, and aukward. ness. Had he been madly in love, he would have been a powerful and overwhelming poet. That passion opens the sluices of the whole affections of the heart, and as it is favoured or counteracted in its growtlı and progress, so do they glide ou in
a tranquil and continuous stream of gentleness and joy, or roll down in the fury and turbulence of the storm. In the one case, becoming the source of all that is beautiful and pleasing ; in the other, of all that is terrific and sublime.
Some have regretted our poet's departure from Scotland, and judging of what he might have latterly performed here, by what he actually accomplished in America, lamented, that he should thus be one of his country's lost stars in the hemisphere of letters. That he would have done something more than what he did, had he only remained, is to be sure likely enough; but that he would have performed as much, or gained so great a reputation as he did elsewhere, is an opinion by no means of equal probability. The salvation of his name, its glory and very being, was his voyage to the new world. And though the animosity and adverse circumstances that drove him hence, every friend to injured and unprotected genius will join in exe. crating, at same time every lover of science and natural history, will have cause to rejoice at the happy fruits which resulted. from otherwise so grieving an event. At home his adventurous and ambitious spirit had no scope to give vent to, or means left it of satisfying its boundless longings. It sickened in the little circle that narrowed its movements, and, like a chilling spell, froze its aspirations. The depth, shade, and illimitable extent of the American forest, with its fair tenantry of winged inmates, were wanting for its width of range, and the unfoldment of and formation of its peculiar biases, and the invigoration of its grasping might. While he remained with us, he knew not what he was, or wherefore he was born ; when he first set his foot in America, moneyless and unknown, he awakened to an adequate sense of his own powers and resources, and intellectual dignity. He had one of those souls which but rise to the full measure of the stature assigned them by nature, owing to the multiform and harassing circumstances that gather round in an endless and perplexed maze, as if to confound and anni. hilate. His was one that smiled at difficulties, gloried in the midst of insuperable obstacles, and triumphed over every barrier that opposed its march or thwarted its desires. When we look to his brilliant, though short career, and think on what he suffered, and what he finally overcame, to compass his stupendous work, he could neither have been accused of egotism nor
untruth, although he had himself uttered this emphatic saying, which we now do for him, Veni vidi vici.
The errings, waywardness, and misfortunes which seem to be the natural birthright and sad inheritance of men of ge. nius, though in themselves to be reprobated and condemned, yet when viewed in relation to those by whom they were com. mitted, or on whom they have fallen in the full measure of their manifold evils, do ever awaken the best sympathies of the heart, and with these, a corresponding and entire forgiveness. Let us have ever so determined a predisposition in our colder moments, and in the pride of our moral worth, to censure such direlictions from the paths of propriety and virtue, it is many chances to one, but that kindlier and better feelings, and gen. tler remembrances will rush in upon us unawares, and ere the ungrateful labour is half begun, quite unnerve the sternness of our purpose. This is peculiarly the case with us at present, while about to speak of Robert Hannahill. We are at all times inclined to look with a fearful shuddering on the man who closes the book of life on himself, and with his own hand expunges from that book the promises it gives him of eternal happiness; in a philosophic view of the matter, we too can find room to despise the dastardliness of soul which impels to self destruction, to avoid real or imaginary evils, rather than await their on-coming, and then manfully bear up against them with fortitude and abiding courage. In the instance before us, however, these sentiments of moral or religious feeling have but slender influence; for the recollection of the poet's amiable character, innocence of life, unassuming manners, and kindness of affections, rise up in such impressive and pleading guise be. fore us, that the indignation of the moralist, or the severity of the critic, are alike soothed, modified, and rendered out of
The main incidents of his life, few and unvaried as they were, have already been detailed in different biographical sketches witli abundant minuteness; to repeat them, therefore, were unnecessary, and while we mention the date of his birth on the 3d of June 1774, and that of his death on 17th May 1810, we perhaps do all that is requisite in the way of registering the epochas of an uneventful and even-tenored existence. Indeed,
with a retired and shrinking character as he certainly was, it would be inconsistent to expect any marvellous or moving tale.
His heart was wedded to his own home, town, and kinclred. Beyond that narrow sphere of humble enjoyment he seldom ventured. But even in regard to Tannahill, since his songs have given him a name in the lyric poetry of his country, it becomes a matter of curiosity to note every minute feature of his mind, and to record every outbreaking of his genius. No person we know of, was more capable of doing this well than his intimate and bosom friend, Mr. R. A. Smith of Paisley. That gentleman frequently revised the best effusions of the poet, and suggested emendations. Besides this, he gave them a music, to say the least of which, were they deprived of it, would be as it were withdrawing the sunshine from a landscape that was glorified in it. Possessed too of many facts relative to his compositions, and the companion of the poet's Saturday afternoon rambles, Mr. Smith certainly was qualified to furnish the world with more interesting notices respecting him, during the latter years of his life, than any that have yet appeared. But if the poet was modest, so was the musician and the poet's friend. Diffidence is often the characteristic of true genius, and never was there a better illustration of this position than at present. Nor the one nor the other have preferred their claims on public attention, with even that becoming firmness and consciousness of desert which are to be commended. In an arrogant and presumptive age like the present, a little charlatanship, (however despicable in all cases where circumstances do not imperiously require it,) is absolutely necessary. The man who has assurance enough to say. I am possessed of genius, may be believed, and his claim thereto acknowledged ; but he who waits till his neighbour perceive his merits, without bruiting them himself, or having a convenient friend to take that trouble off his shoulders, may wait a while, we fear, ere they shall be known and recognized as such by the popular herd.
We have seen some letters of the gentleman already men, tioned, respecting Tannahill's private habits and literary compositions. Written as they are in the carelessness and confidence of friendship, and without any of the formality of authorship, we yet imagine some extracts from them will be of sufficient novelty to yield interest and afford pleasure. And
though it would have been easy for us to have incorporated and interwoven Mr. Smith's observations in our own sketch, it gives us more satisfaction, and will do him and our readers, we believe, more justice, to present them in their original dress. Of that gentleman we must beg pardon for thus freely laying hold on what accident has placed in our power, and printivg without permission, what he wrote with no such view.
Our extracts we give as they occur to our hand.
“ My first introduction to Tannabill was, in consequence of hearing his song, " Blythe was the time," sung while it was yet in manuscript. I was so much struck with the beauty and natural simplicity of the language, that I found means shortly afterwards of being introduced to its author. The acquaintance thus formed between us, gradually ripened into a warm and steady friendship, that was never interrupted in a single instance till his lamented death.
“ It was only froin his compositions that a stranger could form any estimate of his talents--his appearance indicated no marks of genius-his manner was rather distant, and it was but in com. pany with a few, with whom he was very intimate, that his conversation became animated ; in a large assembly, he appeared to great disadvantage, was quite uneasy and seldom spoke, escept to the person nearest him, if he happened to be an acquaintance.
“ For several years previous to his death, we commonly spent the Saturday afternoons together by a walk to the country; but if the badness of the weather prevented us from enjoying this weekly recreation, the afternoon was past in my room, reading and reviewing what pieces he had composed through the week, or if I had any new music I played or sung it over to him.
“ He was particularly averse to enter the company of people above his own station of life; as an instance of this, I shall relate one little anecdote. Miss of
was particularly fond of the Scotish melody, “ Lord Balgownie's favourite," and had expressed a wish to see united to good poetry. I accordingly applied to any friend, who produced his song, “ Gloomy wins ter's now awa," in a few days. As soon as I had arranged the air, with synıphonies and accompaniment for the piano forte,