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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
James Mylne of Lochhill


IN 1790, there was published by Creech, of Edinburgh, a volume of 435 pages of miscellaneous pieces, and two tragedies, by James Mylne, late tenant of Lochhill, in the county of Haddington. It is now a scarce book, and almost unknown. As the author was a member of a highly respectable old East Lothian family, and the poems and tragedies are of great merit—the latter quite in the style of Home’s tragedy of “Douglas,” and Logan’s “Runimede,” and in many passages quite equal to them —a notice of them may not be uninteresting to the reading public of the present day. Mr Mylne died a young man. He had prepared his volume for publication, but he did not live to see it accomplished, and it was published by subscription after His death, dedicated by his son George Mylne, father of the late Mr William Mylne, of Lochhill, to Henry Dundas, afterwards Lord Melville, who was an old schoolfellow of Mylne’s at Dalkeith Grammar School. The subscription list attached to the volume shows that the public strongly evinced their approbation of Mr Mylne as a man of genius and of high intellectual attainments, for no less than 1220 copies were subscribed for from 850 subscribers. The subscription list of an edition of Home’s “Douglas,” published in 1798, only numbered 394 copies from 320 subscribers. The list included almost all the proprietors, tenant farmers, merchants clergy, &c., of East Lothian in 1790, many from London and other places. It is interesting now in 1883 to look over the long list of old names.

Dr Patrick Carfrae, minister of Morham, and afterwards of Dunbar, interested himself in Mr Mylne’s literary career, and wrote a preface to his volume, from which the following is an extract:—“The author of the following poetical pieces lives only in the remembrance of his friends; and there he will live as long as unaffected modesty, warm and generous feelings, and amiable simplicity of manners, and uncorrupted integrity of heart, are regarded and cultivated among men. His genius led him in an early period of life to poetry; and his taste in that line of composition was afterwards cultivated and improved by a regular and liberal academical education, and an acquaintance with the best ancient and modem poets.” Dr Carfrae corresponded with Robert Burns anent Mr Mylne’s writings in 1789, with the view of publication, for which see his letter to Dr Carfrae in Chambers’ edition, pages 28 and 29. Mylne dedicated a long poem to Burns in the Scotch language to his praise. He begins his poem by introducing to the reader winsome Allan Ramsay and poor Rob Fergusson, and laments over the decline of gude auld Scotch, in the following stanzas :—

On yon green sod whare maiden sits,
Wi’ garland dow*d and looks forlorn!
Lord keep the lassie in her wits!
She sings, and yet she seems to mourn.
Do ye no ken the Scottish muse!
Here aft she seeks her darling shade;
And aft wi’ leaves that grave bedews,
Whare poor Rob Fergusson was laid.

But, whist, she speaks—"My dearest callan’,
A sair shock was thy death tae me!
For, since I lost my winsome Allan,
My only hope was sheught in thee!
Nae mair our verses, smooth and strang,
Our men to martial fame incite,
Or warbled in melodious sang,
Our maidens melt with saft delight.

Mylne rejoices, in the following stanzas, that Burns has resuscitated the old mother tongue—

They'll sing in hamely pastoral style,
For which nae nation ere could brag us,
Sangs that will aye gar Scotland smile
At whisky, or a good fat haggis.
In soothing, sympathising strain,
They shall revive the heart that mourns,
Then cried the muse a fidging fain,
“ I see you’ve found my Robbie Bums.

He frae his birth has been my care—
He till he dies shall be the same;
And sangs frae him ye’ll shortly hear
To rival yours and Ramsay’s fame.*

Mylne ends his long poem of forty-one stanzas in praise of Bums by inviting him to come and visit him at Lochhill, in the following quaint and expressive lines:—

I hope ye think na to bespatter ye,
Like mony more wi* foulsome flattery,
Far less to rouse your anger’s battery,
Was my intent;
To let ye ken, I’d like to clatter wi’ ye
Was a’ I meant.

I seldom cringe to wealth or fame,
Or o’ their friendship count the name;
For the maist feck I live at hame,
A farmer douce,
Among my bairnies and their dame
In this thackt house,

Whare we’d be glad to see ye, Gabbie.
Fine fare I winna hecht. How na’ be,
Although we should hae but ae sybie,
Ye’se get your share;
Well aye get saut to it, and may be
Can barraw mair.

I downa bide to hear a glutton
Fraizing about fine beef and mutton;
I never ken or care a button
What I’m to get,
But leave the wife her will to put on
The pat or spat.

My mind in this ye partly see—
Gif ye dislike it, let it be—
But gif it chance to please, and ye
Think it worth while,
Eastward frae Edinburgh by the sea
But fourteen mile.

Ride through the town o’ Prestonpans,
Three miles ayont that leave the sands,
Then ither twa thro’ gude rich lands,
You’ll find Lochhill,
And ready to rin at your commands,
Your frien’, James Mylne.

The two poets never met at Lochhill. Mr Mylne was shortly after cut off by fever in the prime of life. Mr Mylne’s songs are numerous, and include among others —“Melpomene” and “Thalia,” addressed to David Garrick, Esq.; “Desolation, a Pastoral;” "Ode to Henry Dundas, when at the Grammar School at Dalkeith.” The two tragedies are the “British Kings,” and “Darthula,” in five acts each. The scene of the “British Kings” is laid in the south of England, and in the time of the early British kings when their power was being subverted by the Saxons. The persons are :—Cadwallan, king of the Britons; Osrick, king of Northumbria; Kenwale, king of Wessex; Oswald, son of Kenwale; Aufrid, friend of Osrick; Emma, Cadwallan's Queen; Lena, Osrick’s queen; Elfrida, daughter of Kenwale; Esha, friend of Emma; Hannah, attending Elfrida. The tragedy opens by Lena and Elfrida in a forest, having previously encountered ill-usage from ruffians.

Onward, yet farther!—Let me not again,
Be dragged by ruffians! O, my generous princess.
But lead me by the wildest pathless groves,
Into the centre of the forest’s darkness,
Then leave me! solitude best suits me now.

There seems a considerable resemblance in the above to the opening passage in “Douglas” Kenwale, king of Wessex, seems to have been made a mediator of peace betwixt Cadwallan and Osrick, who determined to decide a quarrel in single combat. Kenwale addresses both in the following powerful passage :—

You see our island in itself is blest
With every requisite to man’s content,
Did nature’s God from ev’ry other land
Thus sever it by wide tempestuous seas,
And gird it with its rocky walls t’ enclose
Barbarians who should prey on one another.
Were strength and valour given us to defeat
The great Creator’s blessings?—surely not.
Oft have I heard, or thought I heard the genius
Of Albion thus admonishing her sons:
“Your seas and rocks, while your undaunted hearts
Join in your country’s cause, ye Britons, shall
Defend you from the assaults of foreign foes.
But should dissension raise the unnatural rage
Of mutual slaughter in your valiant breasts,
They but drive back the weak on sure destruction;
Hence learn to live in concord, and improve
The arts of peace. Here as in one great house,
You live like children of one family;
So you, like brothers, should join all your strength,
To guard your common goods from outward force,
Or check the progress of domestic rapine.”

Tragedies always end tragically; so the combat takes place betwixt Cadwallan and Osrick, Cadwallan is killed, and his kingdom falls to Osrick. Elfrida, daughter of Kenwale, becomes the wife of Osrick. Kenwale speaks in the following passage, and peace is proclaimed betwixt Wessex and Northumbria

Elfrida’s eyes
Express consent. Then take my daughter, Aufrid,
And may she prove the pledge of lasting peace
Twixt Wessex and Northumbria. Arthur, too,
Who art our kinsman, and ye Princes all,
Let us unite like brothers, and defy
The vain attempts of every foreign foe.

The scene of the tragedy of Darthula is laid on the coast of Ullin, or Ulster, in Ireland. Persons—Cairbar, king of Erin ; Cathma, his brother; Colla, an Erinian nobleman; Darthula, his daughter; Usnoth, a Caledonian nobleman; Nathos and Ardan, his sons; Althan, &c. Colla opens the tragedy, which treats of combats, love scenes, &c., betwixt Darthula, the heroine, and Nathos, in the following passage:—

The times important! every moment now
May lead us on to glorious deeds of war.
Our youthful general, eager to revenge
The death of great Cuchullin, and to prop
The tottering throne of Erin's minor king,
Basely attacked by Atho’s cruel lord,
Promised this mom to greet us by the dawn.
Nathos will soon be here. The morning now
Already blushes o’er us. Yon long streams
Brighten the tremulous ocean shore where soon
The glorious sun shall blaze above the waves.

Darthula addresses Nathos thus :—

Young soldier, I disturb your private thoughts:
I break perhaps some plans of future conquest,
Or great ideas of expected fame;
Such contemplations to the brave, I'm told,
Afford a joy like real victory.
To which Nathos replies:—
No joy, no pleasure is to me like this
With which Darthula’s presence fills my breast,
Sweet are the hopes of fame! revenge is sweet
For my dear kinsmen slain ! but when with thee,
Heedless of fame, unmindful of revenge,
A gentler passion gives me sweeter joy.
Oh ! could I hope that fair Darthula felt
With me such pleasure, we should never part,
Not ev’n old age should lessen our delight;
But turn youth’s raptures to a milder joy.

There are several choruses in the Tragedy, the first scene of which is laid in Fingall’s Hall, in Selma. An extract will show Mylne’s power of description and pathos to have been great. It is beautiful and powerful:—

Fingall speaks—

Strike, Ossian! strike the harp, my son!
Call out the deep-resounding solemn tone—
Sing on, till some compassionating ghost
Come to tell what friends we’ve lost.

Ossian—

Spirits of our fathers dead!
Whether ye glide
Smoothly o’er the crystal waves!
Whether in the whirlwind’s blast,
Ye roll the whitening tide!
Or pour the night shriek on the lonely hill,
Or murmur o’er your graves?
Come in your cloudy cars,
And tell in sounds of woe,
For what departed chiefs
Must our deep sorrows flow!

Tell me of Oscar! tell,
Who sails the stormy main!
Oh ! have you seen my darling son
Amid his martial train?

Say, does brave Oscar live,
Or are his ships dispersed,
And he, with all his band,
In watery tombs immersed?

Or have they reached green Ullin’s shores,
And yet have come too late
To save the sons of Usnoth brave,
And Cormac, from their fate?

In the second chorus there are many passages of great beauty, but our limits forbid extracts. Darthula, after many tragic, scenes and perilous adventures,' becomes the wife of Nathos, the son of Usnoth, the Caledonian. The tragedy ends with the following passage, which embodies sentiments applicable to every age, nation, and class :—

Althan speaks—

When adverse fortune deals her sharpest blows,
With resolution firm, ye brave, oppose!
Though deep the wounds, though th’ anguish be severe,
Still struggle bravely ! still with patience bear.
Sink not desponding under strokes of grief,
But with true fortitude expect relief!
For sorrow’s storms in time themselves destroy,
And brighter from their clouds shines the succeeding joy!

In Mylne's two tragedies many very beautiful passages are to be met with, true to feeling and nature, and written in elegant and chaste language. He seems to have adopted “Douglas” as his model, both in his plan and style, not to speak of Logan’s “Runimede.” If his tragedies had been brought on the stage, they might perhaps have attained some celebrity akin to what was awarded to “Douglas” when it was acted in Drury Lane Theatre, London, with much applause, and when a patriotic Scotchman cried out from the gallery, “Hurrah for Douglas; what think ye o’ ye’r Willie Shakespeare noo?”

Some of our spirited publishers of the present day might issue a new edition of Mylne’s poems and tragedies with success.


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