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Helen of Kirkconnel.
[Helen Irving, a young lady of exquisite beauty and accomplishments, daughter of the Laird of Kirkconnel, in Annandale, was betrothed to Adam Fleming de Kirkpatrick, a young gentleman of rank and fortune in that neighbourhood. Walking with her lover on the sweet banks of the Kirtle, she was murdered by a disappointed and sanguinary rival. This catastrophe took place during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, and is the subject of three different ballads: the first two are old, the third is the composition of the author of the Siller Gun. It was first inserted in the Edinburgh Annual Register (1815) by Sir Walter Scott.]
I wish I were where Helen lies,
Where Kirtle-waters gently wind,
Though heaven forbids my wrath to swell,
Ah! what avails it that, amain,
Oh! when I’m sleeping in my grave,
[Mustering of the Trades to Shoot for the Siller Gun.]
The lift was clear, the morn serene,
*The concluding verse of the old ballad is finer:
For her sake that died for me.
Also an earlier stanza:
426 And died to succour me;
Frae far and near the country lads
And mony a beau and belle were there,
Wi’ hats as black as ony raven,
Fair fa’ ilk canny, caidgy carl,
Hech, sirs’ what crowds cam into town,
At first, forenent ilk Deacon's hallan,
Broiled kipper, cheese, and bread, and ham,
0! weel ken they wha lo'e their chappin,
The muster owre, the different bands
File affin parties to the sands;
Where, 'mid loud laughs and clapping hands,
Reviews them, and their line expands
But ne'er, for uniform or air,
As to their guns—thae fell engines,
SIR ALExANDER Boswell (1775–1822), the eldest son of Johnson's biographer, was author of some amusing songs, which are still very popular. Auld Gudeman ye’re a Drucken Carle, Jenny's Bawbee, Jenny Dang the Weaver, &c., display considerable comic humour, and coarse but characteristic painting. The higher qualities of simple rustic grace and elegance he seems never to have attempted. In 1803 Sir Alexander collected his fugitive pieces, and published them under the title of Songs chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. In 1810, he published a Scottish dialogue, in the style of Fergusson, called Edinburgh, or the Ancient Royalty; a Sketch of Manners, by Simon Gray. This Sketch is greatly overcharged. Sir Alexander was an ardent lover of our early literature, and reprinted several works at his private printing-press at Auchinleck. When politics ran high, he unfortunately wrote some personal satires, for one of which he received a challenge from Mr Stuart of Dunearn. The parties met at Auchtertool, in Fifeshire: conscious of his error, Sir Alexander resolved not to fire at his opponent; but Mr Stuart's shot took effect, and the unfortunate baronet fell. He died from the wound on the following day, the 26th of March 1822. He had been elevated to the baronetcy only the year previous. His brother, JAMEs Boswell (1779–1822), an accomplished scholar and student of our early literature, edited Malone's edition of Shakspeare, 21 vols. 8vo, 1821. Sir Alexander had just returned
Here, in these chambers, ever dull and dark,
* * * *
Yes, mark the street, for youth the great resort,
much to repair his early want of instruction. His occupation of a shepherd, among solitary hills and glens, must have been favourable to his poetical enthusiasm. He was not, like Burns, thrown into society when young, and forced to combat with
misfortune. His destiny was unvaried, until he had arrived at a period when the bent of his genius was fixed for life. Without society during the day, his evening hours were spent in listening to ancient legends and ballads, of which his mother, like Burns's, was a great reciter. This nursery of imagination he has himself beautifully described:
0 list the mystic lore sublime
Hogg was descended from a family of shepherds, and born in the vale of Ettrick, Selkirkshire. According to the parish register, he was baptised
on the 9th of December 1770. When a mere child he was put out to service, acting first as a cow-herd, until capable of taking care of a flock of sheep. He had in all but little schooling, though he was too prone to represent himself as an uninstructed prodigy of nature. When twenty years of age he entered the service of Mr Laidlaw, Blackhouse. He was then an eager reader of poetry and romances, and he subscribed to a circulating library in Peebles, the miscellaneous contents of which he perused with the utmost avidity. He was a remarkably fine-looking young man, with a profusion of light-brown hair, which he wore coiled up under his hat or blue bonnet, the envy of all the country maidens. An attack of illness, however, brought on by over-exertion on a hot summer day, completely altered his countenance, and changed the very form of his features. His first literary effort was in song-writing, and in 1801 he published a small volume of pieces. He was introduced to Sir Walter Scott by his master's son, Mr William Laidlaw, and assisted in the collection of old ballads for the Border Minstrelsy. He soon imitated the style of these ancient strains with great felicity, and published in 1807 another volume of songs and poems, under the title of The Mountain Bard. He embarked in sheep-farming, and took a journey to the island of Harris on a speculation of this kind; but all he had saved as a shepherd, or by his publication, was lost in these attempts. He then repaired to Edinburgh, and endeavoured to subsist by his pen. A collection of songs, The Forest Minstrel (1810), was his first effort: his second was a periodical called The Spy; but it was not till the publication of The Queen's Wake, in 1813, that the shepherd established his reputation as an author. This ‘legendary poem’ consists of a collection of tales and ballads supposed to be sung to Mary Queen of Scots by the native bards of Scotland assembled at a royal wake at Holyrood, in order that the fair queen might prove
The wondrous powers of Scottish song.
The design was excellent, and the execution so varied and masterly, that Hogg was at once placed among the first of our native poets. The different productions of the native minstrels are strung together by a thread of narrative so gracefully written in many parts, that the reader is surprised equally at the delicacy and the genius of the author. At the conclusion of the poem, Hogg alludes to his illustrious friend Scott, and adverts with some feeling to an advice which Sir Walter had once given him, to abstain from his worship of poetry.
The land was charmed to list his lays;
I struck upon a chord was new;
When by myself I'gan to play,
Scott was grieved at this allusion to his friendly counsel, as it was given at a time when no one dreamed of the shepherd possessing the powers that he displayed in The Queen's Wake. Various works now proceeded from his pen–Mador# the Moor, a poem in the Spenserian stanza; The Pilgrims of the Sun, in blank verse; The Hunting of Badlewe, The Poetic Mirror, Queen Hynde, Dramatic Tales, &c. Also several novels, as Winter Evening Tales, The Brownie of Bodsbeck, The Three Perils of Man, The Three Perils of Woman, The Confessions of a Sinner, &c. Hogg's prose is very unequal. He had no skill in arranging incidents or delineating character. He is often coarse and extravagant; yet some of his stories have much of the literal truth and happy minute painting of De Foe. The worldly schemes of the shepherd were seldom successful. Though he had failed as a sheep-farmer, he ventured again, and took a large farm, Mount Benger, from the Duke of Buccleuch. Here he also was unsuccessful; and his sole support, for the latter years of his life, was the remuneration afforded by his literary labours. He lived in a cottage which he had built at Altrive, on a piece of moorland-seventy acres—presented to him by the Duchess of Buccleuch. His love of angling and field-sports amounted to a passion, and when he could no longer fish or hunt, he declared his belief that his death was near. In the autumn of 1835 he was attacked with a dropsical complaint; and on the 21st of November of that year, after some days of insensibility, he breathed his last as calmly, and with as little pain, as he ever fell asleep in his gray plaid on the hillside. His death was deeply mourned in the vale of Ettrick, for all rejoiced in his fame; and, notwithstanding his personal foibles, the shepherd was generous, kind-hearted, and charitable far beyond his means.
In the activity and versatility of his powers, Hogg resembled Allan Ramsay more than he did Burns. Neither of them had the strength of passion or the grasp of intellect peculiar to Burns; but, on the other hand, their style was more discursive, playful, and fanciful. Burns seldom projects himself as it were, out of his own feelings and situation, whereas both Ramsay and Hogg are happiest when they soar into the world of fancy or the scenes of antiquity. The Ettrick Shepherd abandoned himself entirely to the genius of old romance and legendary story. He loved, like Spenser, to luxuriate in fairy visions, and to picture scenes of supernatural splendour and beauty, where
The emerald fields are of dazzling glow, And the flowers of everlasting blow.
His Kilmeny is one of the finest fairy tales that ever was conceived by poet or painter; and passages in the Pilgrims of the Sun have the same abstract remote beauty and lofty imagination. Burns would have scrupled to commit himself to these aérial phantoms. His visions were more material, and linked to the joys and sorrows of actual existence. Akin to this peculiar feature in Hogg's poetry is the 'it of most of his songs—a wild lyrical flow
of fancy, that is sometimes inexpressibly sweet and musical. He wanted art to construct a fable, and taste to give due effect to his imagery and conceptions; but there are few poets who impress us so much with the idea of direct inspiration, and that poetry is indeed an art ‘unteachable and untaught.”
Bonny Kilmeny. [From The Queen's Wake.]
Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;