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Significant Scots
Dougal Graham


GRAHAM, DOUGAL, the rhyming chronicler of the last rebellion, was probably born early in the seventeenth century. Unfortunately, none of the works we have met with give any account of his parentage or early life. It has been said that he was engaged in the rebellion of 1745-46, but without sufficient authority. He had, to use his own words, "been an eye-witness to most of the movements of the armies, from the rebels’ first crossing the ford of Frew, to their final defeat at Culloden;" but it would seem from this expression, as well as from the recollections of some of his acquaintances, that it was only in the capacity of a follower, who supplied the troops with small wares. But Dougal’s aspiring mind aimed at a higher and nobler employment,—the cultivation of the muse; and no sooner was the rebellion terminated by the battle of Culloden, than he determined to write a history of it "in vulgar rhyme." Accordingly, the Glasgow Courant of September 29, 1746, contains the following advertisement: "That there is to be sold by James Duncan, printer in Glasgow, in the Salt-Mercat, the second shop below Gibson’s Wynd, a book entitled, A full, particular, and true account of the late rebellion in the years 1745 and 1746, beginning with the Pretender’s embarking for Scotland, and then an account of every battle, siege, and skirmish that has happened in either Scotland or England: to which is added, several addresses and epistles to the pope, pagans, poets, and pretender, all in metre, price fourpence. But any booksellers or packmen may have them easier from the said James Duncan, or the author, D. Graham. The like," the advertisement concludes, "has not been done in Scotland since the days of Sir David Lindsay!" This edition is now to be procured nec prece nec pecunia; the eighth edition, however, contains a preface by the author, in which he thus states his reasons for undertaking so arduous a task. "First, then, I have an itch for scribbling, and having wrote the following for my pleasure, I had an ambition to have this child of mine placed out in the world; expecting, if it should thrive and do well, it might bring credit or comfort to the parent. For it is my firm opinion, that parental affection is as strong towards children of the brain as those produced by natural generation."—"I have wrote it in vulgar rhyme, being what not only pleased my own fancy, but what I have found acceptable to the most part of my countrymen, especially to those of common education like myself. If I have done well, it is what I should like, and if I have failed, it is what mankind are liable to. Therefore let cavilers rather write a better one, than pester themselves and the public with their criticisms of my faults." Dougal’s history has been on some occasions spoken of with contempt,—and, as it appears to us, rather undeservedly. The poetry is, of course, in some cases a little grotesque, but the matter of the work is in many instances valuable. It contains, and in this consists the chief value of all such productions, many minute facts which a work of more pretension would not admit. But the best proof of its popularity is, that it has run through many editions: the eighth, which is now scarce, was printed at Glasgow in 1808, with a "True Portraiture" of the author. Beneath it are the lines:

"From brain and pen, O virtue! drop;
Vice! fly as Charlie and John Cope!"

As the book became known, Dougal issued editions "greatly enlarged and improved." That of 1774, while it contains many additions, is said to want much of the curious matter in the editio princeps.

In 1752, Graham styles himself "merchant in Glasgow," but it would appear that his wealth had not increased with his fame:

"I have run my money to en’
And have nouther paper nor pen
To write thir lines."

Afterwards he became a printer; and it has been affirmed, that, like Buchan, the chronicler of Peterhead, he used to compose and set up his works without ever committing them to writing. The exact date at which he became bellman is not known, but it must have been after 1770. At this time, the situation was one of some dignity and importance: the posting of handbills and the publishing of advertisements were not quite so common; and whether a child had "wandered,"—"salmon, herring, cod, or ling" had arrived at the Broomielaw, - or the grocers had received a new supply of "cheap butter, barley, cheese, and veal," the matter could only be proclaimed by the mouth of the public crier.

After several years of, it may be supposed, extensive usefulness in this capacity, Dougal was gathered to his fathers on the 20th of July, 1779. An elegy upon the death of that "witty poet and bellman," written with some spirit, and in the same verse as Ferguson’s elegy upon Gregory, and that of Burns upon "Tam Samson," was published soon after. We may be allowed to sum up his character in the words of its author:

"It is well known unto his praise,
He well deserv’d the poet’s bays;
So sweet were his harmonious lays:
Loud sounding fame
Alone can tell, how all his days
He bore that name,
Of witty jokes he had such store,
Johnson could not have pleased you more,
Or with loud laughter made you roar,
As he could do:
He had still something ne’er before
Expos’d to view.

Besides his history, Dougal wrote many other poems and songs, some of which, though little known, are highly graphic. They would form a pretty large volume, but it is hardly probable that in this fastidious age any attempt will be made to collect them.


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