« PreviousContinue »
SOME ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE OF
* HECTOR MACNEILL.
Bella, horrida bella, Et Tybrim multospumantem sanguinecerno. Or, as honest Withers says of himself, Hector MacNeill was descended a dark lanthrene offering a dim
from a respectable family, who posdiscovery on riddles and semi-riddles, &c., intermixed with cautions, re
sessed, for some centuries, a small hemembrances, predictions,” &c.
reditary estate in the southernmost dis
trict of Argyllshire. His father, after And I perhaps among them may be several vicissitudes of fortune, obtain
ed a company in the 42d regiment of That was let loose for service to be done, Scotch Highlanders, with whom he In order to such kinds (as I believe served several severe campaigns in I am, and when I'm gone, some will Flanders. Having been seized with a perceive,
dangerous pulmonary complaint, he Though none observe it now), I blunder out what worldly-prudent men
disposed of his commission, and retired Count madnesse.
with a wife and two children, to that
beautiful residence, Rosebank, near Human prediction must be for ever Roslin, where, on the 22d of October separated from divine prophecy ; there 1946, the subject of this memoir was is nothing supernatural in the pre- born, who, to use his own words, science we are asserting; and Socra- midst the murmur of streams, and the tes, though he cajoled his heathens, shades of Hawthornden, may be said with the story of his “ Demon,” was to have inhaled with life the atmosa great predictor.
phere of a poet.” The present contemplation of the
Captain Macneill possessed all the future, with the statesman or the generosity of a soldier, and all the hosphilosopher, is entirely derived from pitality of a Highlander, so that, in no that of the past, which includes the long time, he found himself in cirhistory of the present. An intimate cumstances somewhat embarrassed, and familiarity with the past, combined was forced to sell the delightful spot with natural sagacity
and our own ex to which he had become most strongly perience, will be sufficient to form a attached. He then retired to a farm great predictor in human affairs. This
on the banks of Loch Lomond, where, prophet may be liable to run too close for several years, he enjoyed the calm those parallels in history which so pleasures of a rural life, with uninterfrequently appear ; but in all histori- rupted felicity to himself and his facal parallels much is to be dropped mily. But having lost a considerable and much to be substituted, before
sum of money by the failure of one their common principles can be made friend, and become involved in a to agree; the full comprehension, the lawsuit, in consequence of having fact of the future in the past, forms been security for another, the latter that prescient faculty, with which part of his life was darkened by missome great men have unquestionably fortune. An opulent relation in Brisbeen endowed.
tol, having paid Captain Macneill a visit Absorbed in present views, car- during his distresses, took a fancy for ried away by a sectarian presumption his little namesake, Hector, and proand egotism, the audacious revolu- mised to provide for him. Accordinga tionists of these times strike into a ly, after two years' preparatory educabye-path in pursuit of their empirical tion at a public seminary, the youth measures ; they dare to imagine that
was sent, at the age of fourteen, to their own inventions can suggest to Bristol. The cousin, to whose charge them all that is to be done and all he was committed, had been the Capthat is to be said; a contempt, and tain of a West India trader, and finaleven an oblivion of the past, is the ly realised a considerable fortune, by glory of their ignorance ; and, therefore, we are perpetually discovering
# This sketch has been drawn from the that their new is old, while
the old autobiography of the poet, now in posses. remains for them still new, when we
sion of one of his most esteemed friends; take the pains to discover it, to this
a very entertaining and instructive work, unlessoned and stripling race of polie and which, we understand, will probably ticians.
be given to the public.
various mercantile occupations. He three years, discharging the duties of was pleased with the diligence and his office with great credit, and resability of his ward, and determined pected by all. Here too, had he been that, like himself, he should become of a money-making disposition, he a merchant and a seaman. It was at might have realised some fortune, but first intended that he should be sent unluckily for himself, he was not, and
“ trying voyage” to the coast of after six year's residence in the West Guinea, in a slave-ship; but this plan Indies, his sole property was an unwas laid aside, and Hector Macneill blemished reputation. At this time was entered on board the Ruby, Cap-' he heard that his mother and sister tain Henderson, bound to St Christo were dead, and upbraiding himself for phers and Antigua, as ordinary, but having allowed his family to remain was birthed with the second mate, so long ignorant of his fate in life, he gunner, and carpenter, in the steera resolved to return to his father's age. If he liked the sea, something house, and see what prospects might was to be done for him on his return open up for him in his native country. ing to port; if not, his cousin
him About eighteen months after Hecintroductory letters to some of his par tor's return to Scotland, his father ticular friends in St Christophers, to died, leaving him but a very slender gether with one for his son, who had patrimony. This he was advised to the charge of his father's store-houses sink in an annuity; and for several in that island.
years he contrived, on £80 per anThe voyage to St Christophers com- num, not only to support himself, but pletely sickened young Macneill with also three other persons who had unthe sea, and after a year's unsatisfac- fortunately become dependent on his tory residence on that island with his justice and humanity. He had, fatalpatron's son, he sailed for Guadaloupe, ly for his happiness and respectability, on an engagement of three years, in yet from circumstances originating in the employ of a merchant there, which romantic generosity, formed a conhad been represented to him as in all nexion which he found it impossible respects highly eligible. In this situ- for him to break off; and it was not, ation he met with nothing but insults till the failure of the person from whom and bad treatment, and Guadaloupe he had purchased his annuity startled having bed in virtue of the treaty of him from his indolent and delusive peace between England and France, life, that he saw the necessity of tearrestored to the latter, the merchant ing himself away from his luckless fawith whom he lived departed for A- mily ties, and of getting into some emmerica, and left him, at the age of se- ployment to ward off the immediate venteen, to shift for himself, with on- approach of poverty and dependence. ly eight or ten pistoles in his pocket, Through the interest of a friend in and not a single friend who cared for London, he was received as an assiste him in the island. After many diffi- ant into the Secretary’s-office, in the culties, he contrived to get a passage Victory, Admiral Geary's flag-ship, at to St John's, Antigua, where he found that time commanded by the celebratthe cousin with whom he had parted ed Captain Kempenfeldt, and made two at St Kitt's, and immediately began to cruises with the grand fleet, during assist him as a clerk. Finding, how, which nothing of importance occurever, that this person expected him to red; but seeing no prospect of adwork day and night without any sa vancement in a profession most unlary, he quitted his employment, and congenial with his habits and disposifound himself once more set adrift, tions, he gave up his equivocal and and at the mercy of the waves of for- unproductive situation, and again turntune. It was not long, however, till ed his face towards Scotland. In Lihe was recommended by a friend to verpool he was induced to remain for the Provost-Marshal of Grenada, as a some months, by his friendship with person qualified, by his general talents, Messrs Currie and Roscoe (men who and more particularly by his know- afterwards became so illustrious), and ledge of the French language, to assist with the benevolent and wise Rathin his office,-and being chosen to the bone, who most affectionately loved situation, he soon afterwards arrived him; and while there, he received ina at St George's Town in that island. telligence of his being appointed to the Here he lived happily and usefully for same kind of situation which he had
formerly held, on board the flag-ship On his arrival at Kingston, Hector of Sir Richard Bickerton, appointed Macneill became an assistant to the to take the chief command of the na Collector of the Customs, a gentle val power in India, in the room of man with whom he had formed acSir Edward Hughes. After three quaintance during the voyage. This years absence from Britain-during worthy person, however, took the first which he was in the last undecisive opportunity that occurred of getting action with Suffrein, and encountered rid of him, as soon as he found that he most of the difficulties and dangers in- could transact the business of his of cident to a sea-faring life-Hector fice without his assistance, and Macneill Macneill returned as poor a man as
found himself once more, not only tobefore, fortune having never once tally destitute of present, but hopeless smiled upon him—and that promotion of future employment. The letters of which his acknowledged good conduct introduction, which he had brought and excellent talents deserved, having to some eminent persons, were of no been constantly retarded by some in- use to him; and in his emergency, he. auspicious event or other, till at last had no other resource than to accept, all prospect of ultimate success was for a time, of the hospitality of a mefinally closed. In this seemingly hope- dical friend, at whose house, situated less situation he again revisited Scot- in a beautiful valley, he took up his land; and having raised a few hun- temporary abode. He soon afterwards dred pounds on the security, such as discovered that two of the dearest it was, of his annuity, he retired to a companions of his boyhood were setfarm-house near Stirling, and for a tled in Jamaica, and from their friend. year or two gave himself up entirely ship he received every kind of aid that to literary pursuits, and more espe« his situation required, and promises, cially to the study
of poetry, for which afterwards fully realized, of future enhe had in early life shewn both incli- couragement and support, in case of nation and genius, although the hard- the failure of those schemes which he ships and vicissitudes of fortune had was about to carry into execution. left him but little opportunity of cul- These, it would appear, were sometivating those powers, and enjoying what vague and indefinite; and a those pleasures in manhood, which had favourable opportunity having soon been the delight and ornament of his occurred of returning to Britain, Hecearly youth. In this retirement he tor Macneill was prevailed on to emseems to have enjoyed much happi- brace it, and to try his chance once ness ; for he possessed an elasticity more in his native country. Before he and buoyancy of mind which kept quitted Jamaica, he had the satisfaction him elate and cheerful under circum- of seeing his two boys, who had been stances that would have depressed sent out by a generous friend, comforta most men into utter despondency. It ably settled ; and having, through the was then that he made his first ap- interest of the governor's secretary, repearance before the public as a poet ; ceived a small sum of money as the but though his poem, which was pay of an inland ensigncy, now conpurely descriptive of local scenery, ferred on him, but antedated, he set gained him some reputation among his sail in good spirit, and in a few months own friends, and with the inhabitants found himself once more in Scotland. of the beautiful country therein des During his homeward voyage, Maccribed, this his first attempt was con- neill had finished a poem, which he sidered by the public as almost a com- had begun before he last left Scotland, plete failure, and sunk at once into and he now published it, under the oblivion. Perceiving that poetry was patronage of Mr Grahame of Gart, not likely to be a gainful trade, he once more, who had long loved the Poet, and more resolved to enter into active life; admired his genius. This poem, which and having procured some letters of is. called the “ Harp," and founded introduction, to opulent and powerful on an interesting Highland tradition, persons in Jamaica, he set sail for was not very successful on its first that island on a voyage of adventure, publication, but became afterwards a being now in his thirty-eighth year, favourite, and brought the author conand as ùnprovided for as when he siderable reputation. For some years first embarked on the troubled sea of Hector Macneill resided with his friend life.
in Stirlingshire, and became engaged
to marry the sister of his wife, in the ly increased, for he was looked on at event of procuring any situation that his departure as a dying man, and his could enable him to support a family. poems had been read with that kind This attachment proved most distress- of pathetic interest which breathes ing to both parties ; for some unex- from the memorials of departed genipected circumstances having broken The booksellers now became his the ties of that friendship on which friends, and he received a moderate he chiefly relied, Macneill, seeing that sum for the copy-right of his various nothing but misery could result from poetical productions. His medical the marriage, felt himself imperiously friend in Jamaica, who died about this called on, by a sense of honour, to tear time, bequeathed to him one half of himself
away for ever from the object his little property; and he soon afterof his affections.
wards, by the death of his son, acquired On the unfortunate termination of a farther addition to his fortune. His this affair, Hector Macneill retired into circumstances were now easy, and he Argyllshire, and passed some time continued, till the day of his death, with his father's relations. He then free from those distressing embarrasse visited Glasgow, and, through the ge- ments, in which, spite of all his talents nerosity of a friend and namesake and activity, he had been almost conthere, was on the eve of entering into stantly involved, till he was upwards a mercantile concern, when the events of fifty years of age. His residence was of the year 1793 overturned the con fixed, for the last fifteen years of his mercial prosperity of that city. He life, at Edinburgh; and he enjoyed, in accordingly took up his residence in its enlightened society, the respect and Edinburgh, having been able again to friendship of all who knew him-and, raise some money on his annuity ; but though he wrote but little poetry, conhe was now attacked with a severe ner tinued assiduously to pursue, in serene · vous complaint, and for six years suf- retirement, those elegant studies, which fered inexpressible wretchedness from he had never lost sight of in the most pain of body and depression of mind. turbulent and distracting scenes of an During this dismal night of darkness adventurous and checkered life. He and disease, he retired to a solitary died the 15th of March 1818, having, cottage near St Ninians, Stirlingshire, for a considerable time, suffered much and there tried to direct his faculties from a general decay of the primary once more to poetry. It was there that powers of nature. he wrote his Will and Jean," a com From this sketch of the life of Hecposition that instantly became popular, tor Macneill, it will be seen that, from in the best sense of the word, and ac- early boyhood, till that season when quired for him that for which his soul the imagination, in some measure, is had often panted--the reputation of a deadened or decays, he had but few poet.
intervals of undisturbed leisure and The despondency, however, under serenity, during which he could devote which he had long laboured, instead himself to the impulses of his poetical of being lightened by applause, deep- genius. Indeed, his whole life, till he ened at last into despair, and, with a was far advanced in years, was a ceaseview of trying the effects of a tropical less struggle with adversity; and a climate, he determined to revisit Ja mind which unquestionably was frammaica. He there found one of those ed by nature for the enjoyment of all friends who had formerly been so kind liberal pursuits, was kept too constanta to him, possessed of affluence, and, in ly filled and agitated by anxiety and consequence of his brother's death, dis- care. In estimating, therefore, his posed to return to his native country. poetical character, and the merit of his This generous man insisted on settling writings, it is necessary that we hold a small annuity on his friend, in obe- in view the many unfavourable cirdience to wishes often expressed by his cumstances under which that poetical deceased brother; and in a few months character grew, and those writings they set sail together for Britain, where were composed. When we do so, we Macneill arrived with improved health feel at once that Macneill was a man of and spirits, and with the prospect of genius. We perceive the flashingspassing the remainder of his days in the outbreakings of a true poetical spiserenity and comfort. During his ab- rit, through those clouds that so long sence too, his poetical fame had greate enveloped it-and, independently of
their intrinsic beauty, which is often ries, and it would not be easy to find very great, his productions have a any superior to some of them in simstrong charm about them, as the effu, plicity and tenderness, and, above all, sions of an original and feeling mind in that unity of feeling which is ezescaping gladly from the necessities of sential to such poetry. There are exlife into the delightful world of the hibited in them many specimens of imagination.
that mingled gayety and pathos which The poem on which his reputation seems to mark the passion of love in chiefly rests is “ Scotland's Skaith, or all simple states of society; they are the History of Will and Jean.” It distinguished from the songs of real took at once a strong hold on the af- shepherds, only by the ornaments of fections and feelings of the people of Art working in the spirit of Nature Scotland; and will, without doubt, and have often been sung by the maidretain its place among our national po en at her wheel, as songs of former etry, in the same rank with the best days framed by some bard in lowly life. compositions of Burns. It is indeed a Our limits prevent us from quoting most beautiful narrative ballad, finely any of them at present, but we refer and delicately conceived --simply and our readers to “'Donald and Flora," gracefully expressed. Nothing can be “Mary of Castle-Cary,” “ The Rose better than the picture there drawn of of Kirtle," “ The Lammie,” Come the happy life and interesting charac- under my Plaidy,” “O tell me how ter of the Scottish peasantry-and great for to woo,” “ Jeanie's Black Ee,” &c. skill is shewn in describing, without Of Hector Macneill we have now the slightest coarseness or vulgarity, shortly spoken as a Poet—we could the degradation of that life and char- also with
pleasure speak of him as a acter by wretchedness and vice. A Man. His high sense of honour-his ballad so true to nature, and so full of unbending integrity—and his unosteninstruction, cannot be unimportant to tatious spirit of independence, were the cause of morality—and, as it has well known to all who enjoyed his an existence in the hearts of the peo- friendship. It may be, that he was ple, there can be no doubt that it has occasionally proud and fastidious overoften joined its influence with other much, and that his temper had slightcauses to guard the young from the ly felt the fretful influence of disapinsidious approaches of that vice, whose pointment and misfortune-but these ruinous effects it so pathetically de were faults easily overlooked and forscribes and deplores. The praise of given in one of so much sterling worth, this poem is not now, perhaps, much so many accomplishments, and so fine heard in book-shops or literary cote a genius. He was a sincere friend, and ries—but it lives in the memory of a fascinating companion; and when his many thousand virtuous hearts, who mind was perfectly serene and happy, feel, ignorant and poor though they in the absence of those nervous commay be, the sanctity of their own small plaints to which he was always subject, household—and cherish, with enthu- he delighted all companies by the livesiastic love, that poetry, in which are liness of his illustrations, the originalrecorded their own simple ann This ity of his remarks, nd a boundless is a kind of poetry in which Scotland fund of curious and characteristic is rich-which springs out of that im- anecdote. pressive system of domestic life which her population alone enjoys—and which, in the works of Ramsay, and Burns, and Fergusson, and Macneill, and the Ettrick Shepherd, serves to connect the moral being of the lower
Letter THIRD. ranks of society with that of the very highest in the land, by the bonds of a
Lausanne, 3d September. deep and common sympathy.
That enthusiastic love of her native The genius of Hector Macneill also land, for which Madame de Staël was shone with peculiar beauty in his vari so remarkable, excited in her the ous little lyrical compositions, and strongest desire of returning to it, notsongs breathed to the touching music withstanding her courage and her reof his country. Many of these songs solutions. After being convinced, howhave become part of our national ly,“ ever, of the impossibility of doing so,
CHATEAU OF COPPET.