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The Scottish Nation

MICKLE, WILLIAM JULIUS, translator of ‘The Lusiad,’ was born at Langholm, Dumfries-shire, September 29, 1734. He was the third son of the Rev. Alexander Mickle or Meikle, minister of Langholm, who, during his residence in London, previous to his obtaining that living, superintended the translation of Bayle’s Dictionary, to which he is said to have contributed the greater part of the additional notes. His son William received the early part of his education at the grammar school of his native parish, and on the removal of his father, in his old age, to Edinburgh, was sent to the High school of that city, where he acquired a competent knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages. His father having, on the death of Mr. Myrtle, his brother-in-law, a brewer in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, purchased the business for his eldest son, the poet was, in his sixteenth year, taken from school to be employed as a clerk in the counting-house, and five years afterwards the brewery was transferred to him. Before he was eighteen he had written several pieces, and some of his poems appeared in the ‘Scots Magazine;’ two of which, one ‘On passing through the Parliament Close at Midnight;’ and the other, entitled ‘Knowledge, an Ode,’ were reprinted in Donaldson’s Collection. In 1762 he sent to London an ethic poem, entitled ‘Providence,’ which was published anonymously, but did not meet with much success. Having sustained considerable losses in business, which led to his bankruptcy, he quitted Edinburgh hastily, in April 1763, and on the 8th of May arrived in London. He had previously written a letter to Lord Lyttleton, to whom he submitted some of his pieces, but without producing any other result than a complimentary correspondence. He had hoped to have obtained through his lordship’s interest some civil or commercial appointment, either in the West Indies of at home; but in this he was disappointed, and hearing that the humble situation of corrector to the Clarendon press, at Oxford, was vacant, he offered himself as a candidate, and being successful in his application, he entered upon his duties in 1765. During the same year he published ‘Pollio, an Elegiac Ode,’ and in 1767 appeared ‘The Concubine,’ a poem, in two cantos, in the manner of Spenser. The former did not attract much notice, but the latter was most favourably received, and after it had gone through three editions, the title, to prevent misapprehension, was changed to ‘Sir Martyn.’

In 1771 Mickle issued proposals for printing by subscription a translation of the ‘Lusiad,’ by Camoens, to qualify himself for which he learnt the Portuguese language. He published the first book as a specimen, and from the encouragement he received, he was induced to resign his situation at the Clarendon press, with the view of devoting his whole time to the work, when he took up his residence at a farm-house at Forest-hill, about five miles from Oxford. During the progress of the translation he edited Pearch’s Collection of Poems, in which he inserted several of his own, particularly ‘Hengist and Mey,’ a ballad, an ‘Elegy on Mary Queen of Scots.’ To Evans’ Collection he also contributed his beautiful ballad of ‘Dumnor Hall,’ founded on the tragic story of the lady of the earl of Leicester, the favourite of Queen Elizabeth. His translation was finished in 1775, and published in a quarto volume, under the title of ‘The Lusiad, or the Discovery of India,’ to which he prefixed an Introduction, containing a defence of commerce and civilization, in reply to the misrepresentations of Rousseau, and other visionary philosophers; a History of the Portuguese conquests in India; a Life of Camoens; and a Dissertation on the Lusiad, and Observations on Epic Poetry. The work obtained for him a high reputation, and so rapid was its sale, that a second edition was called for in June 1778. By the two editions he is said to have realized about £1,000. Previously to its publication he had written a Tragedy, entitled the ‘Siege of Marseilles,’ which was rejected by Garrick, and afterwards by Mr. Harris, and was never acted.

In May 1779 he was, by Commodore Johnstone, a distant relation of his own, appointed his secretary, and he sailed on board of the Romney, man-of-war, with a small squadron, destined for the Tagus. In the ensuing November he arrived at Lisbon, where, as the translator of the national poet of Portugal, he received many flattering marks of attention from the nobility, gentry, and literati of that country, and was admitted a member of the Royal Academy, at its opening. While in that capital he wrote his poem of ‘Almada Hill, an Epistle from Lisbon,’ published in 1781, but without adding to his reputation. In 1780 the squadron returned to England, and Mickle remained for a time at London, as joint agent for the disposal of some valuable prizes taken during the expedition. He had acquired considerable wealth, and in 1783 he married Miss Mary Tomkins, the daughter of the farmer with whom he had resided at Foresthill, and with this lady he received a handsome dower. He now went to reside at Wheatley, near Oxford, where he employed his leisure in writing some occasional pieces, in revising his published poems, and in contributing a series of Essays, entitled ‘The Fragments of Leo,’ and some other articles, to the European Magazine. He died, after a short illness, October 28, 1788. He left one son, for whose benefit a volume of his collected poems was published by subscription in 1795. – His works are:

Providence, or Arandus and Emilée; a Poem. London, 1762.

The Concubine. 1765. 2d edition, under the title of Sir Martyn; a Poem, in the manner of Spenser. London, 1778, 4to.

The first book of the Lusiad; published as a specimen of a Translation of that celebrated Epic Poem. Oxf. 1771, 8vo.

The Lusiad, or the Discovery of India; an Epic Poem. From the original Portuguese of Camoens. Oxf. 1775, 4to, 2d edit. 1778, 4to. Also in 2 vols, 8vo.

A Candid Examination of the Reasons for depriving the East India Company of its Charter. 1779, 4to. This pamphlet is written in defence of the Company.

The Siege of Marseilles; a Tragedy.

Alamada Hill; an Epistle from Lisbon. Lond. 1781, 4to.

The Prophecy of Queen Emma; a Ballad. 1782.

A Letter to Dr. Harwood, whereby some of his evasive glosses, false translations, and blundering criticisms, in support of the Arian Heresy, contained in his liberal translation of the New Testament, are pointed out and confuted.

Voltaire in the Shades; or, Dialogues on the Deistical Controversy.

Poems, and a Tragedy. Lond. 1791, 4to. This contains an account of his life, by Mr. Ireland.

A more full and correct collection of his poems appeared in 1807, with a Life, by the Rev. John Sim.

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