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Such a work must be deserving of attention, and we now propose to remark upon it.
Some interest will of course be felt in the author. His “Life” was some time ago published by his brother. Barren of particular incident, it is yet, in many respects, full of interest and instruction.
He was born October 19th, 1798, at North-Moorhouse, in the parish of Eaglesham, Renfrewshire, ten miles south of Glasgow. Three of the ancestors of his mother shared in the sufferings occasioned by the fearfully wicked persecutions to which Scotland, especially in its south-west portions, was subjected between 1660 and 1688, the latter being the now almost forgotten year of Britain's deliverance “from Popery and arbitrary power.” His mother's great-grandfather only escaped pursuit by fleeing to Ireland, where he remained in exile three years, during which his estate was confiscated. One brother was banished, in 1685, to Barbadoes, where he was held in slavery till the Revolution; and another, the same year, was seized by a troop of Dragoons, and instantly shot. No wonder that attachment to the principles which were at issue in this contest, became, in a manner, hereditary in the family. The parents of both his father and mother were among the earliest seceders from the Church of Scotland, as believing that she was yielding to an external and desecrating influence.
In his childhood Robert was active and healthy, full of wit and humour, and possessed of great decision of character. He was, at the same tiine, very amiable and attractive, so as to be a favourite with the whole family. When he was about seven years of age, his father removed to an old farm at MidMoorhouse, a quarter of a mile to the north-east of his former residence; and here Robert lived till manhood, in the midst of its wild and impressive scenery. Some of the prospects from the farm are very grand and extensive. From the west round to the north-east, the sight ranges along a bold outline of mountains, some of them even eighty miles distant. From a hill, the highest in Renfrewshire, a thousand feet above the sealevel, and about a mile and a half to the south of Moorhouse, the view is varied and magnificent. Such scenes could not
fail to impress the susceptible mind of Robert, and strengthen its poetic tendencies.
He received the rudiments of his education at home; his mother, to whom he and the whole family were much indebted, being his first teacher. He afterwards went to the Mearns parish-school, where he was taught English reading, writing, and arithmetic. He continued here till he was fifteen, though as he was often, especially in summer, engaged in agricultural operations, his attendance was much interrupted. He was diligent in study, and kept a high place in his class. His growing character still exhibited the fortitude, activity, and energy that had marked his earlier youth. His constitution was robust, and his appearance very pleasing. In fieldgames among his school-fellows he was the very life, generally excelling his competitors. But these exercises proved the occasion of destruction to his health. Pursued by a boy three years older than himself, and determined not to be overtaken, he ran till his strength was exhausted, though not till his pursuer was exhausted first. He thus brought on a pain in his chest, which soon proved to be the indication of disease. He lost the ruddy complexion for which he was before remarkable, and became extremely pale. The symptoms varied, indeed, and he often hoped that he was restored ; but eventually the fatal disorder prevailed, and he was taken away almost as soon as his public life began.
When about fifteen years of age, a decided change appeared in his behaviour, especially in regard to his temper, which was naturally warm; but from that time he became remarkable for self-command. He had been reading the Gospels attentively, and was struck with the character of the Saviour, and his conduct under bitter and unrighteous opposition. He saw his own duty, and sought divine help for its performance. His taste for reading, likewise, became decided; and though his access to books was very limited, what he did read he read well. He acquired a taste for solid writing and good composition. He read the Scriptures diligently, and attended closely to the sermons which he heard; so that if he could not then be an attentive reader, he habituated himself to active and close thought. The conversation of his parents, too, was intelligent; and as he was observant and curious, he grew up with a mind better stored than would have been supposed from the character of his opportunities. He learned to think, to think accurately, and for himself. His information might be comparatively circumscribed, but his mind was active, and his judgment sound. He was about sixteen when he first formed the idea of becoming, at some future period, an author. There was an odd volume of the “ Spectator " in the family. One day he had taken it with hiin to read in the fields, and, in the course of the perusal, he thought he could write a piece like the one then before him. lle tried, and found that he, too, could compose; and thenceforward composition became one of his settled objects.
In the autumn of 1815, he and his brother conversing together, found that each had been for some time meditating on giving up farming, and studying for the ministry. Having received the approbation of their parents, in December they commenced the study of Latin. Robert devoted himself to his new pursuits with his whole soul, and in reading any author was particularly attentive to style. In 1816 a farther advancement took place. At his maternal uncle's, an intelligent man, (Mr. David Dickie, by whose conversation both brothers were greatly benefited,) he met with some of the poetry of Pope. Poetry he had not read before, except in the extracts in the school-books to which he had been accustomed; and from that time it became one of his studies. Occasionally he wrote a few verses for practice; but his great care was to study poetry that he might really understand it, and be prepared to write it at a future time. His impressions and resolutions were confirmed by finding, at his uncle's, “Paradise Lost.” His uncle gave it to him, and it became immediately one of his chief companions. He studied it thoroughly and long; and though he occasionally wrote a piece or two by way of exercise, this was all. He saw that to write good poetry, he must both study poetry, and cultivate and store his mind: he therefore never wasted his time and strength by compositions to which he knew that subsequently he himself would attach no value.
In November, 1817, he and his brother, having finished the
labours of harvest on the farm, went to Glasgow, and entered the college there. For some years he studied diligently, making extensive notes of all that he met with in the course of his reading, which was become exceedingly extensive, that he thought deserving of notice. His college exercises, too, won for him the approval of his tutors; and altogether his progress was both sure and rapid. His relish for the sublime and beautiful of natural scenery not only continued, but increased, with his mental growth. In the neighbourhood of his father's residence he loved to walk, apparently purposeless, but meditating on all his eye beheld, feasting, no doubt, the poet in his mind. Indeed, during the whole course of the improvement which resulted from his studies during the years he attended the sessions of his college, his strong predilection for poetry became increasingly apparent. The notes found among his papers after his death, prove that he had studied it with careful and exact criticism, and that he did not come before the public as an author, till by diligent attention to thought and expression, he had prepared himself for literary composition. He won the fame which subsequently became his prize, by being in no hurry to seek for it. He was willing to wait for maturer qualification. During his attendance at college, he passed a retired life, visiting scarcely any person, but carefully attending to the religious duties of the Sabbath. He was, every way, an industrious Scotch student.
Having left the University, he directed his attention more particularly to theology, and in the August of 1820 became a student in the Divinity-Hall at Glasgow, of the United Secession Church, then under the professorship of Dr. Dick. He first became an author by writing, at intervals, three small tales, “ Helen of the Glen,” “David Gemmel,” and “ The Persecuted Family.” The sums he received from the sale of the copyright, and for the sake of which, perhaps, he was principally induced to write them, though not large, (the first was £15,) were serviceable to him, as assisting to defray his expenses. Indeed, one of his motives for contemplating some great work, -and from these thinkings the “Course of Time” ultimately proceeded, --was the removal of the pressure of pecuniary difficulty, and the attainment of something like a moderate independence. In a letter to his brother, October, 1824, he writes,—and the views his language present are painfully pleasing," I began to think seriously how unreasonable it was to put my father to any more expenses ; and to feel how inadequate all that he could spare me was for maintaining me in that way-no extravagant one, as you know-in which I wished to live. He had already given me an education beyond his circumstances, for which I trust God shall reward him by me, and not only without ever saying, or seeming to think, that I was burdensome to him, but accompanying every farthing I received from him with a look of as much satisfaction and paternal sweetness as if I had put into his hand some gift of my filial affection. He never complained ; but he had given me the means of knowing my duty; and every thought now began to be imbued, and every plan tried, by the need I was in of gaining something for myself.” While he was writing his great poem, (March, 1826,) he speaks, in a letter to his brother, of the mental sufferings caused by his owing about twenty pounds, which, just then, he was unable to pay. He adds, “My path does indeed seem to be at present surrounded with difficulties; but you remember that when the sea was before Moses, and the Egyptians behind, the Lord opened a way for him.” At an earlier period he appears to have experienced a severe mental struggle, arising out of this pressure of circumstances. He felt that he was able to write, and saw that the public was willing to pay the highest price for works of amusement and fiction; and the prospect of being thus enabled to help himself was, for a brief period, a temptation to him. His language on the subject deserves quotation, even in this general sketch. It occurs in the same letter in which he speaks so touchingly of his father :-" The immediate need of realizing money put me upon a thousand schemings averse to my nature. Becoming more careless what I should choose to do, as the pressure of circumstances was more severely felt, I sometimes threw an eye over those unhallowed regions in which so many of the sons of genius sport themselves amidst the smiles of fortune : almost regardless of the voice of my Creator