Page images
PDF
EPUB

for in Birrell's diary occurs the following notice: “1568 Jan. 18. A play was made by Robert Sempill, and performed before the Lord Regent and divers others of the nobility;" which play Sibbald imagines in all likelihood to be Philotus; and in Ames' typography of Great Britain, it appears that “The Sege of the Castel of Edenburgh,” was “imprintit be Robert Lepreuick, anno 1573.” By Dempster, the death of Sempill is fixed in 1598, but this discrepancy is over-ruled by the fact that this author was at a distance from his native country when he wrote, and could not therefore be very conversant with, or correct in obituaries, and must of pecessity have trusted greatly to vague and uncertain rumours regarding these particulars in the bio. graphies of the celebrated men of his age. Here then we have two individuals bearing the same name, anıl living at the same period. That these two are one person, we have little hesitation to affirm; and with the simple affirmation of this fact we might rest satisfied inasmuch as the Doctor is concerned, because one opinion is quite as good as another, when both happen to be unsupported by any evidence in their favour, and none of them are unplausible in themselves. It is admitted at once, that there is no direct mention made in any writer of Sempill the poet being Lord Sempill, or that that nobleman was the same person with the said poet : and the reason of this is obvious, because none of Sempill's contemporaries were his biographers, and the incidental notices, gleaned from various quarters respecting him, relate to his literary character, not to his lineage and family connections. Moreover, it never hath been the custom to give poets any titles, save those which serve to mark their peculiar excellencies: all other trappings are derogatory to the might and majesty of their simple sirname. No one, even in our own days, when speaking in general terms of Byron as a great poet, thinks of saddling his discourse with the epithet Lord. The sirname is enough to let him who bears it be known without this puny prefixture of worldly rank. Now if it should so happen, that everything respecting the birth of this great man were lost, and all the Magazine histories of him and other trash burned to a scroll, and nothing save fragments of his poems were extant, and a few remarks of some critics contemporary with him upon his genius were all that reached to distant posterity, it is very likely that a long headed wiseacre of that generation, would split his lordship into two halves--one whereof, to be Lord Byron, son of such a one—and the other, Byron a poet, of whose birth nothing was known.

Such a one might write a very plausible sentence or two, after this fashion. “One of the most celebrated poets of his day, was Byron. His works would appear to have been numerous and excellent, but of them few remnants now survive, and such as I have seen, are so mutilated and imperfect, that it is impossible to say anything definitive upon their merits or defects. It has been alleged by some, but without any foundation in truth, that Byron was of noble extraction ; and others have gone so far as to say, he really was titled, than which nothing can be more ridiculous. True, there was a Lord Byron coeval with him, but I find no clue whatever in the history of these times that can lead me to suppose they were one and the same person. Had they been so, such a circumstance would never have been overlooked by the historian. I therefore hold those who cling to this opinion as fools.” And who would dare to beard or contradict so authoritative a wise one ?

What is now assumed with regard to Byron, has happened to Sempill. Surely there is nothing ridiculous in supposing, that a Nobleman might write poems as well as a Squire of low degree. And yet it is with the ridiculousness of this supposition Dr. Irving is at odds. He may know, or at least he ought to do, that with a very few exceptions, none sare Noble. men, Courtiers, and Clerical dignitaries, were the poets, philosophers, historians, and literary factotums of that age. Education then was not, as is the case now, diffused through every rank and condition of society, but confined exclusively to the higher classes or professional orders. Without one having some real or pretended claim to genteel, if not noble birth, it is ques. tioned if they then would even have been admitted to any terms of familiarity with the great, whatever their talents were or labours had been. Feudalism, to be sure, was in that age shaken to its base, but its ramparts were not cast to the ground ; and where it appears in any formidable shape, a mortifying distance is always maintained between the magnates of the land and the other members of the body politic.

Although the poetry of Sempill cannot be eulogised to the extent which Dempster has done, neither can it be so far de. preciated as Irving has attempted to do. He wrote in the spirit of the times; and it is unfair to measure him by the standard of taste established now. We much suspect that the Dr. has but sparingly looked into them, and been in the main as much at fault while speaking of them, as he supposes Dempster to have been on a like occasion. This far we can safely say, namely, that they will bear comparison with similar productions of the same period, and not be greatly the loser by the experiment.

The poetic vein that began in Lord Sempill, was continued in the person of his cousin-german, Sir James Sempill of Belltrees, author of the “Packman's Pater Noster” and by him transmitted to Robert Sempill, the author of the celebrated Epitaph on Habbie Simpson," Piper of Kilbarchan, until it terminated in the person of Francis Sempill, his son, author of these popular songs : Scho rase and loot me in"_Maggy Lauder,The blythsum Bridal,&c., &c., and of a poem, entitled The Banishment of Poverty," &c.

Anything more than this catalogue of names our limits for. bid us to give. It is to be regretted, that the manuscripts of Francis Sempill are irretrievably lost. They fell into hands which knew not their value, and it is to be feared out of them they will never be recovered. Respecting the Sempills, considerable information will be found in two small periodical publications, entitled The Paisley Repository and Annual Recreations, printed in 1812. 'Bating some inaccuracies in the matter, and sundry inelegancies of style, the information contained in them will be useful to those desirous of knowing more about this distinguished family, more especially in regard to Francis Sempill, of whom several anecdotes were related, and who appears to have been rather of a harum scarum disposition.

There is a large cumbrous quarto, purporting to be a reprint of Crawfurd's History of Renfrewshire, and a tinuation thereof to the present day, into which we have often dipped for information, in the course of writing this essay, expecting to find some notices respecting the history of the literature of the County, as well as of its pedigrees, parishes, and superficial contents in arable or unarable ground. But this mass of dullness gave no response, all therein was dark. ness, dreariness, and we may add, endless bewilderment. One might as well have gone to the meikil stane o' Cloichodrick

con

and searched for diamonds, as sought for a single hint in the big book alluded to. Speaking of this volume, it has always struck us with astonishment and sorrow, that a person in the County, a native of it, possessed of intelligence, and science, and literature, could not be found to execute it in the way it should have been done. A knowledge of pedigrees, land surveying, or manures, is not all that is necessary for such a work.

This digression, feradventure, is ill-timed and ungracious ! but it was written after having made a fruitless search for some account of Robert Crawfurd, a cadet of the Auchinames family, thinking the frigidity of the genealogist would have thawed and dissolved itself, as the fine songs of T'weedside, and My Dearie an ye die, rung in his ears. But we were mistaken, and must content ourselves with what the laborious and eccentric Ritson has already communicated of this Renfrewshire Poet.

Speaking of Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany he observes that, “among the contributors to this collection which, except the musical publication at Aberdeen, is supposed to be the first that ever appeared of Scotish Songs, was a gentleman of the name of Crawfurd of the family of Auchinames, whom the pastoral beauties and elegant language of T'weedside, and the pathetic tenderness of My Dearie an ye die, will ever place in the first rank of lyric poets." This is a great deal from a critic so gruff as Mr. Ritson.

Of Mr. Crawfurd's life no particulars are known, except that he was in the army and unfortunately drowned, either in going to, or returning from France. The Mary of his song of Tweedside, is supposed, by Walter Scott, to have been Mary Lilias Scott, of the Harden family, oft-times, on account of her loveliness, styled The Flower o' Yarrow. Besides those songs alluded to above, Daintie Davie and The Bush abune Tra. quair, may also be mentioned as other two happy efforts of this gentleman's muse.

Another gentleman whom it behoves us not to omit in this sketch, is William Walkinshaw of that ilk, the author of Willy was a Wanton Wag, &c., an especial good song of its kind. Farther than mentioning his name we cannot go, as no other particulars connected with him have we been able to pro

The tome of solidity which we have had occasion to

cure.

make honourable mention of before, has been consulted on this subject, but as was to be anticipated, found wanting.

Again we enter upon debateable ground. Jean Adam, who was born at Cartsdyke, probably about the beginning of last century, and died in the town's hospital of Glasgow, on the 3d April, 1755, disputes along with William Julius Mickle, translator of Camoen's Lusiad, the honour of writing the song, There's nae Luck about the House. Every particular in the life of this lady of any consequence at all, and the whole arguments for and against her claim to the song in question, are embodied in two well written papers of the Visitor, * to which we beg leave to refer. The writer concludes by giving it to Mickle, and pronouncing Jean Adam incapable of such a performance.

His reasons, though, on the whole, strong and plausible, are not such as to produce entire conviction. What his argument mainly rests on against Jean Adam, is the tame and prosaic and religious description of her other poetical mis. cellanies, + so woefully contrasted, as they undoubtedly are, to the natural simplicity and beauty of this song;-her never having attempted to write anything else in the Scotish language,and the age of the song itself, which, according to Burns, first began to be hawked through the streets in 1771 or 1772, which places it out of her day, or making it ten years older, would have to be written long after she had quitted her poetical labours. His argument for Mickle, hinges on that writer's genius--his having given a copy of the song to his wife, as one of his own productions—there being found in his papers an imperfect or rude sketch of it-its age as given above, which would fix its composition in his twenty-fifth or twenty-eighth year, and having written other songs wherein Scotish words occur, and one of which is written in the same measure.

We may remark, that it is often found all arguments tend. ing to prove this or that song to have belonged to a particular author, when drawn from a knowledge of what he hath written, and the complexion and power of his genius, are very fre

* The Visitor, or Literary Miscellany. Original and selected; printed for John Turner, Greenock, 1818. This little periodical contains more good stuff in its pages than is generally to be found in publications of a similar description.

Miscellany Poems. By Mrs. Jane Adam in Crawfurdsdyke. Glasgow, 1734, 12mo.

« PreviousContinue »