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Memoir of John Wilson
By Mrs Gordon


PREFACE

I have with much misgiving taken upon myself the duty of writing a Memoir of Professor Wilson, believing that my father’s life was worthy of being recorded, and that it would bear to be truthfully told. I was well aware of the great difficulties attending its performance, and they proved not less than I anticipatedj and I knew that I rendered myself liable to the charge of presumption in undertaking a task declined by abler hands. But I could not give up my persuasion that an imperfect picture of such a man was better than none at all, and in that conviction I have done what I could.

The many-sided character of the man I have not attempted to unfold; nor have I presumed to give a critical estimate of his works—they must speak for themselves. Now and then, in the course of the narrative, where letters are introduced referring to literary subjects, I have made a few observations on his writings ; but in no other way, with the exception of those chapters devoted to Blackwoods Magazine and the Moral Philosophy chair, have I departed from my original intention of giving a simple domestic memoir. If I have in any way done justice to my father’s memory in this respect, I am rewarded.

I have availed myself of the letters of my father’s principal correspondents, so far as they served to throw light on the main subject, or were in themselves interesting and characteristic. I trust, in doing so, that I have inserted nothing calculated to displease or give pain to any now living. If I have erred in this or other respects, my inexperience in literary work must be my excuse.

I have spoken of the difficulties that I had to encounter. It is now my pleasing duty to thank the friends who have so kindly lent me their assistance, without which I should indeed have been much at a loss.

To my brothers, Mr. John Wilson of Billholm, Mr. Blair Wilson, and my brother-in-law, Professor Aytoun, I am indebted for memoranda and many domestic letters.

Others, too numerous to mention by name, will, I hope, accept my thanks for their courteous kindness in rendering me such service as lay in their power.

To the various students of former days, who have so heartily contributed their reminiscences of the "old man eloquent” whom theydoved, I offer my most grateful thanks. Those parts of the work which are chiefly made up of such contributions, will, I am sure, be regarded by many as among its most valuable and interesting contents. To Mr. Hill Burton, the Bev. William Smith, and Mr. A. T. Innes, I am under very special obligations in this respect.

To Messrs. Blackwood I am indebted for a complete list of my father’s contributions to the Magazine from 1826, which has enabled me to make use of autobiographic details otherwise inaccessible.

To Mr. Macduff of Bonhard, and Mr. John Boyd, Publisher, I am obliged for their kindness in placing at my disposal the correspondence connected with the publication respectively of the Isle of Palms and of Jamas.

Sir David Brewster and Sheriff Cay have conferred a most valuable favor upon me in permitting the use of Mr. Lockhart’s portfolios.

To my friend, Mr. Alexander Nicolson, Advocate, I am especially indebted: his warm encouragement aided my labors, and his judicious advice guided me in the arrangement of my materials, which, both in MS. and in type, he also carefully revised. The trouble which he has kindly taken in connection with this work is such as could have been expected only from one of those whom Professor Wilson loved to call his “ children.”

In conclusion, I may express my humble hope that this volume, however it may come short of expectation, will prove acceptable to my friends and that portion of the public who love and respect the name of John Wilson.

Edinburgh, October, 1862.

CONTENTS

Chapter I. Boyhood.
Paisley—Nursery Amusements—His First Fish—Sermon—Oure John’s Teegar—Mr. Peddie’s School—Life in the Mearns Manse.

Chapter II. Glasgow College. 1791-1803.
His Father’s Death—Enters College—Professor Jardine—Professor Young—Diary in 1801—Portrait by Raeburn—Student Life in Glasgow—Fondness for Barley-sugar—Walking Feats—Essay Writing—Companions—Letter to Wordsworth.

Chapter III. Love and Poetry, Life at Oxford. 1803-08.
Dychmont—First Love—Poems to Margaret—Oxford—Studies—Expenses—Commonplace-books —Cock-fighting—Pugilism—Leaping—Reminiscences of Magdalen College by a Fellow-student—College Anecdotes.

Chapter IV. The Orphan Maid - University Career. 1803—08.
Letters to Margaret and to Mr. Findlay—Letter from Mr. Blair—Letters to Mr. Findlay—Letter from Mr. Blair—Examination for his Bachelor Degree—Letters to Mr. Findlay—End of the Love Story.

Chapter V. Life at Elleray. 1807—11.
Description of Elleray—The Old Cottage—The New House—First Meeting with Wordsworth; with De Quincey—The Anglers’ Tent—Mathetes—Poetic Compositions—Boating—His Fleet on Windermere—Billy Balmer—Lake escapade—Hunting a Bull—Love of Animals—His Game Birds—“A Main at Elleray"—Wrestling—“A varra bad un to Lick”—Gale House—Its Inmates —A Ball; a Regatta, etc.—Letter to Mr. Harden—Letter to De Quincey—Poetry—Letters to Mr. J. Smith, Publisher.

Chapter VI. Marriage. The Isle of Palms. 1811-15.
Letter to Mr. Findlay, on the day of his Marriage—Letters to Mr. Smith about “The Isle of Palms” —Lines on James Grahame—Edinburgh, 53 Queen Street—Letters to Mr. Smith—Plans for future work at Elleray—Loses his Fortune—Studies for the Scottish Bar—Note from Mr. Blair—Departure from Elleray—Letter to De Quincey.

Chapter VII. Life in Edinburgh. The Bar. The Highlands. Elleray. 1815-17.
Edinburgh—Mrs. Wilson, Senior—Called to the Bar—Letter to Mrs. Wilson, from the “ Head of the Yarrow”—The Shepherd at Home—An Adventure at Peebles—A Pedestrian Tour in the Highlands by Mr. and Mrs. Wilson: their Adventures—The great Caird—Letter to Hogg, giving an account of the Tour—Criticism on the Poets—Letter to Mr. Smith, proposing a new volume of Poems—Publication of “The City of the Plague”—Letters to his Wife—Letter to Mr. Smith—Letter from Jeffrey on his Poems—Loch Awe—Letter to Mrs. Wilson, from Achlian— Adventure with Tinkers—His mode of Fishing—Letters to Mrs. Wilson, from Blair-Athole and Dingwall—Adventure at Tomintoul—Mrs. Grant of Laggan’s remarks on Wilson—At Elleray— Patrick Robertson.

Chapter VIII. Literature. Blackwood's Magazine. 1817-20.
His Connection with Periodical Literature—Edinburgh Monthly Magazine—Letter to Mrs. Wilson from Kinloch Rannoch—Review of Lalla Rookh—Fishing Tour—Letters from Jeffrey regarding Contributions for the Edinburgh Review—Fragment from Jeffrey regarding a Vindication of Wordsworth—State of Parties in Edinburgh in 1817—Establishment of Blackwood— Early Editors and Contributors—The Scots Magazine—A change in the Management—Number VII.—The New Contributors—The Scorpion—The Leopard—Mr. Lockhart—John Wilson—Mr. Robert Sym—James Hogg—Mystifications—Leigh Hunt and Sir J. G-. Dalyell—More Mystification—Dr. James Scott, 7 Miller Street, Glasgow, alias The Odontist—Captain Paton’s Lament —The Dilettanti Club—Letters from Mrs. Wilson to her Sister Miss Penny on the Magazine— Ensign O’Doherty—A Magazine Row, etc.—The Style of Criticism adopted—Letter to Professor Laugner—The Attack upon Professor Playfair—111 Results—Hypocrisy Unveiled—orrespondence with the Author—Letter from Mr. Morehead—Letter to Mr. Morehead—Letter from Jeffrey, vindicating the Edinburgh Review from the Charge of Infidelity.

Chapter IX. Moral Philosophy Chair. 1820.
Removes to Ann Street—Sir Henry Raeburn—Sir John Watson Gordon—Sir William Allan— Death of Dr. Thomas Brown—Announces himself as a Candidate for the Chair of Moral Philos* ophy—Sir William Hamilton—Fierce opposition by the Whig party—Letters from Mrs. Wilson on the struggle—Letters to Rev. J. Fleming and Mrs. Grant of Laggan for a Certificate as to Character—Mrs. Grant’s reply—Letter from Sir Walter Scott—His Election—Letter from Mrs. Wilson on her husband’s success—Letter to Mr. Smith—Preparations for his Lectures—Correspondence with Dr. Blair—A Fancy Sketch of the new Professor in his Study—Correspondence with Blair—Opening Lecture of his First Course.

Chapter X. The Professor and His Class.
His Syllabus—The Professor in his Sporting Jacket—Adventure in Hawick—"A little Mill”— Makes two Students at home in Ann Street—The Professor and his “ Children” at St. Mary’s Loch—Mr. Hill Burton’s Reminiscences of the winter of 1830—A Market-day atTarland—A kind Teacher—A Dinner at Gloucester Place—His Class—Saturday—A Snow-ball Riot—Any Old Clothes?—“Sir Peter Nimmo” and the poet Wordsworth—Dr. Syntax—A “Conservative” Meeting—Politics in the Class—Rev. Mr. Smith’s Recollections of 183T—As a Lecturer—His Course for 1837-1838—Illustration, the Love of Power—His Power as an Ora tor—“The Demosthenes of Ireland”—An Episode in the Class-room—His Care and Industry in Examining the Students’ Essays—His Kindness to them privately—The Session for 1850-1851—Mr. A. Taylor Innes— “Professor Wilson’s Gold Medal”—The Origin of the Moral Faculty—His Appearance in the Class-room—An Unmannerly Student.

Chapter XI. Literary and Domestic Life. 1820-26.
Lays from Fairy Land—Devotion to the Magazine, and Friendship for Mr. Blackwood—Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life—A Summer in Elleray once more—Letter from Mr. Blackwood— Letter from Mr. Lockhart on Mr. Leigh Hunt—The Gormandizing School of Eloquence—Miss Edgeworth, etc., etc.—TomPurdie—Willie Laidlaw, etc.—Letters from Mr. Blackwood regarding the Magazine—Another Summer at Elleray—Letter from Mr. Blackwood—Letters from Mr. Lockhart—The People he met in London—Edward Irving’s Preaching described—Party Politics —Literary Gossip—Old Slop and the New Times—A Daily Paper at the Breakfast-table, etc.— Letter from De Quincey—Hill on Education—The “Breeches” Review—“ A Confession”—Accident to Mrs. Wilson—Letter to Mr. R. Findlay—Death of Mrs. Wilson, Senior—Letter from Principal Baird—Removal to Gloucester Place—The Proposed Chair of Political Economy— Letters from Mr. Patrick Robertson, Mr. Huskisson, Mr. Canning, and Sir Robert Peel on the Subject—Literary work—Projected “ Outlines”—Correspondence of Mr. Lockhart and Mr. Wilson on “Janus”—Letters from Mr. Lockhart on Sir Walter’s visit to Elleray—Letter from Professor Jameson—Letter from Mr. Lockhart on Canning—W. Maginn—Letter from Mr. Blackwood—Letter to Delta on “Janus”—Illness of Mrs. Wilson—Letter from Mr. Lockhart, on becoming Editor of the Quarterly Review—Work during 1826—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from Kendal—Colonsay.

Chapter XII. Literary and Domestic Life. 1827—29.
As a Friendly Critic—Letter to Delta—Views on Free Trade—“Mansie Waugh,” etc.—Notes to Mr. Ballantyne—Innerleithen—Letter to Mr. Fleming, Rayrig, on “Christopher North,” etc.— Letters to Mrs. Wilson—Hartley Coleridge—Contributions for 1828—Letters from Allan Cunningham, regarding “The Anniversary,” “Edderline’s Dream,” etc.—Mrs. Wilson to Miss Penny —“Evening at Furness Abbey”—Letter from James Hogg, declining an invitation to Elleray— Letter to Mr. Fleming—Letter from Thomas Carlyle—Letter from Mr. Lockhart—Contest for Oxford University, 1829—Letter to De Quincey, on his Sketch of the Professor—Thomas De Quincey—Affection for him—His visit to Gloucester Place.

Chapter XIII. Literary and Domestic Life. Cruise with the Experimental Squardron. 1830-32.
Home Life in Gloucester Place—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from Penny Bridge and Westmoreland— Homeric Papers—Letter from Sotheby—Letter from Miss Watson—A Conservative Meeting and Liberal Commentary—Criticism on Tennyson—Letter to Mrs. Wilson on bis Cruise with the Experimental Squadron—London—Greenwich—H. M. S. the “Vernon”—Sheerness—On hoard the “Vernon”—A Sailor’s Death at Sea—Plymouth—The “Campeadora”—The “Vernon” -Holystoning—Off the Lizard—Land’s End—Cork—London and Home.

Chapter XIV. Literary and Domestic Life. 1832-37.
Letter from an Author to a Critic—Political Feeling—Paper on Ebenezer Elliot, and Letter from him—“ Come and break a ton” of iron—Letter from Mr. Audubon—From Rev. James White of Bonchurch—Letters to James Hogg—“The Shepherd’s Reconciliation”—An Autumn in Ettrick—Royer and the Witch—Pets—A Dog Fight—Thirlstane Castle—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from Edinburgh—Mr. Blackwood’s Illness and Death—Letters from the Clyde to Mrs. Wilson-Public Dinner at Paisley—Last Letter from Mrs. Wilson to her Sister—Illness and Death of Mrs. Wilson.

Chapter XV. Literary and Domestic Life. 1837-44.
Depression of Spirits—Life at Roslin—Marriage of his Daughters—His main work that of a Teacher—His little ways at Home—Pets—The Sparrow—His Dogs: Bronte—Tory—Grog— Game Birds—A new Coop—A Note to Delta on the Dispersion of his Aviary—Work for the Year—Letters to Mr. Aird on Burns—Had Burns Family Worship at Dumfries?—The Professor’s Study—Writing for Blackwood—Habits of Composition—Letter to Mr. Findlay from Rothesay—Cladich—A Fairy’s Funeral—Letter to his Daughter describing Billholm—Review of Macaulay’s Lays—Letter to Dr. Moir.

Chapter XVI. Literary and Domestic Life. 1844-48.
Characteristic Letters from John Gibson Lockhart—The Kemp Absurdity—Maga—Novel Reading, etc.—Letter to his son John on Domestic matters—“The Kemn Affair”—Walking Feats— The Burns Festival—Letter to Sheriff Gordon—Letters from Sergeant Talfourd, excusing himself from attendance at the “Festival”—Letter to Aird—Letter to his daughter Jane—Fishing in the Dochart—Letter to his daughter Jane—Maga Articles resumed in 1845—British Critics— Elleray—Letter to Sheriff Gordon, asking him to edit an Article of his for Black wood—Opening of Edinburgh Philosophical Institution, of which he was elected President—Melancholy Reflections—Letter to Mr. Findlay requesting his presence at the Marriage of his son John—Visit to the newly Married Pair—Resolves not to return to Elleray—Weakness in the Hand, writes consequently with difficulty—Byron’s “ Address to the Ocean”—Peculiarities of Dress—Still in Mourning for his Wife— A Street Scene—A Carter defeated—Humanity to Animals—Visits to London—Sitting for a Portrait—Conversational Powers—Reminiscences of Social Meetings— Jeffrey’s Receptions—Lord Robertson—The Professor’s Songs—Sailor’s Life at Sea—Auld Lang Syne—“A Quaint Ballad”.

Chapter XVII. Closing Years 1849—54
"Dies Boreales”—Rituals of the Church—The Scottish Service—Marriage of his youngest daughter to Professor Aytoun—Playful ways—Toilet peculiarities—His Watch—Hat—Snuff-box— Gloves, etc., etc.—Horror of Gas—Love of Children—Letter to his second son Blair, mentioning “Billy’s" Death—Letter to his son Blair—The “ Dear Doctor11—From College Duties on account of 111 Health—Illness—Desire to return to his Labors—Excursion to the Highlands in search of Health—Passion for Angling—Visit to his Brother at Woodburn—Determines to retire from Active Life—Letter from the Lord Advocate to Sheriff Gordon, conveying the news of the Grant of a Pension of £300 per annum—Letter from Lord John Eussell to the Lord Advocate, desiring him to have the Queen’s intentions mentioned to Wilson—Receives the News—Letter of Acknowledgment to Lord John Russell—Takes up his abode at Woodburn—Last Papers for Magazine—Step feeble and unsteady—Letter to his son Blair, thanking him for supplies of Books— Macaulay a Candidate for the Representation of Edinburgh—Comes to Edinburgh and Votes for Macaulay—Letter from Macaulay to Sheriff Gordon, expressing his kindly feelings towards the Professor—Last Visit of Mr. Lockhart—Letter to Robert Findlay, congratulating him on the Marriage of his Son—At Gloucester Place again—The Last Christmas—Seized with a Shock of Paralysis—Rapid Decline—The End.

APPENDIX

Appendix I. Public Funeral and Proposed Statue
Appendix II. Correspondence relating to Janus
Appendix III. List of Professor Wilson’s Contributions to Blackwood's from 1826
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 1
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 2
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 3
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 4
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 5

Recreations of Christopher North in 3 volumes
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3


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