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Significant Scots
John Logan


LOGAN, JOHN, a poet and sermon-writer of no mean eminence, was born in the year 1748, at Soutra, in the parish of Fala, in the county of Mid-Lothian, being the son of George Logan, a small farmer at that place, of the dissenting persuasion. He received the elements of learning at the school of Gosford, in East-Lothian, to which parish his father removed during his childhood. Being the younger of two sons, he was early destined to the clerical profession, according to a custom not yet abrogated in families of the humbler rank in Scotland. At the university of Edinburgh, he formed an acquaintance with the unfortunate Michael Bruce, and also with Dr Robertson, afterwards minister of Dalmeny, and known as author of a Life of Mary queen of Scots. In the society of the former individual, he cultivated poetical reading and composition, being fondest, as might be supposed from the character of his own efforts, of the writings of Spenser, Collins, Akenside, and Gray, the three last of whom bear so honourable a distinction from the cold and epigrammatic manner of their contemporaries. During one of the recesses of the college, while residing in the country, he became known to Patrick lord Elibank, who, with his usual enthusiasm in favour of genius of every kind, warmly patronized him.

On completing his education, Logan was received as tutor into the house of Mr Sinclair of Ulbster, and thus became preceptor of the late Sir John Sinclair, author of the Code of Agriculture. He did not long retain this situation, in which he was succeeded by his friend Robertson. In 1770, he superintended the publication of the first edition of the poems of Bruce, who had died three years before. The volume professedly contained a few supplementary pieces by other writers, and of these Logan was himself the principal author. The best of his contributions was the Ode to the Cuckoo, which, notwithstanding the obvious fault of a want of connexion between the various parts of various stanzas, is still one of the most popular poems in the language.

In 1773, Logan was licensed as a preacher by the presbytery of Edinburgh, thus joining the ranks of the established, instead of the dissenting church. He soon became known as an eloquent and affecting preacher, and in the same year was called by the kirk-session and incorporations of South Leith, to be their minister; a situation always considered as one of the most honourable in the church of Scotland, and which had just been vacated by another man of genius, Dr Henry Hunter, whose life has been given in the present work. Here he continued to cultivate literature with devoted ardour, though it was not till 1781, that he thought proper to publish any poetry under his own name. Among the studies of Dr Logan, history was one of those in which he most delighted. In the winter of 1779, he delivered a course of lectures on the Philosophy of History, in St Mary’s chapel, Edinburgh, under the countenance and approbation of Dr Robertson, Blair, Ferguson, and other eminent persons connected with the university. So successful was he in these exhibitions, that, on the chair of universal history becoming vacant in 1780, he would unquestionably have obtained it, if he had possessed the incidental qualification of being a member of the Scottish bar. In the succeeding year, he published an analysis of his lectures, so far as they related to ancient history, under the title of "Elements of the Philosophy of History," which was followed by one of the lectures "On the Manners and Government of Asia." His poems, published in 1781, attracted so much attention, that a second edition was called for next year. In this collection, he reprinted several of the pieces which he had formerly given to the world along with those of Michael Bruce. A painful charge rests against his memory, regarding the real authorship of some of those pieces, and also respecting the use he made of a copious manuscript of Bruce’s poetry, intrusted to him after the publication of the first volume. Into this controversy, which is fully stated in Anderson’s edition of the British Poets, we deem it unnecessary, in the present state of the literary reputation of both men, to enter; but we can state, as a fact not formerly known to the biographers of Logan, that he asserted his innocence in a very decided manner, after his removal to London, by ordering an Edinburgh agent to take out an interdict against an edition of Bruce’s poems, in which several of his own pieces had been appropriated, under the supposition of their belonging to that poet.

Undeterred by the fate of Home, Logan produced a tragedy in 1783. It was entitled "Runnimede," and aimed at combining the history of Magna Charta with a love story said to be expressly borrowed from the Tancrede of Voltaire. Runnimede was rehearsed by Mr Harris at Covent Garden theatre, but prevented from being acted by an order from the chamberlain, who, in the recent feeling of the American war of independence, took alarm at several of the breathings in favour of liberty. Logan then printed it, and had it acted in the Edinburgh theatre; but in neither form did it meet with decided success. This, with other disappointments, preyed upon the spirits of the poet, and he now betook himself to the most vulgar and fatal means of neutralizing grief. It is to be always kept in mind, that his father had died in a state of insanity, the consequence of depressed spirits. Hence it is to be presumed, that the aberrations of the unhappy poet had some palliative in constitutional tendencies. From whatever source they arose, it was soon found necessary that he should resign the charge of the populous parish with which he had been intrusted. [An aged parishioner of Dr Logan, mentioned to a friend of the editor of this work, that he was present in church one day, when the conduct of the reverend gentleman was such as to induce an old man to go up, and, in no very respectful language, call upon the minister to descend from the pulpit which he disgraced. Such an anecdote, if read immediately after perusing one of the elegant discourses of Logan, would form a singular illustration of the propinquity which sometimes exists between the pure and impure, the lofty and the degraded, in human character.] An agreement to this purpose was completed between him and the kirk-session, in 1786, and he retired with a certain modicum of the stipend, while Mr Dickson was appointed his assistant and successor.

In the autumn of the preceding year, Logan had proceeded to London, apparently with the design of devoting himself entirely to literature. He was engaged in the management of the English Review, and compiled a view of ancient history, which passed under the name of Dr Rutherford. In 1788, he published an anonymous pamphlet, entitled "A review of the principal charges against Mr Hastings;" which, being construed into a breach of the privileges of the house of commons, caused a prosecution of the publisher, Stockdale, who, however, was acquitted. This was the last production he gave to the world. After a lingering indisposition, he died in London, December 28, 1788, about forty years of age.

Dr Logan destined legacies to the amount of 600 to certain of his friends and relations, to be realized out of his books and manuscripts. The latter consisted of sermons, miscellaneous prose pieces, lectures, and a few small lyrical poems. In 1790, the first volume of the sermons was published, under the superintendence of Drs Robertson, Hardy, and Blair. The second volume appeared in the following year; and, before the end of 1793, both volumes had undergone a second impression. None of his other posthumous works have been published.

Except in the latter part of his life, when rendered irritable and sottish by the results of his constitutional temperament, Dr Logan is allowed to have been a man of the most amiable character, full of refined sensibility, and free from all mean vices. Of his poetry, which has been several times reprinted in the mass, it is no small praise to say that it advances before the age in which it was written, having more of the free natural graces which characterize modern verse, than the productions of most of his contemporaries. It is also characterized in many instances by singularly happy expressions, as it is in general by extreme sweetness of versification. His Ode to the Cuckoo and his hymns, are the pieces which may be expected to last longest. A selection from the latter, omitting portions of some of those chosen, was embodied in the volume of paraphrases, sanctioned by the church of Scotland as an addition to the psalmody. "The sermons of Logan," says his earliest biographer, Dr Anderson, "though not so exquisitely polished as those of Blair, possess in a higher degree the animated and passionate expression of Massillon and Atterbury. His composition is everywhere excellent—its leading characteristics being strength, elegance, and simplicity. The formation of his sentences appears the most inartificial; though at the same time, it will be found, strictly correct. But the manner, amidst all its beauties, is, on the first perusal, lost in the enjoyment the reader feels from the sentiment. Devotional and solemn subjects peculiarly accord with his feelings and genius. In exhibiting deep and solemn views of human life, his sentiments are bold and varied, and his imagination teems with the most soothing and elevated figures. * * It appears to have been no part of his plan to seek out for new subjects of preaching, or to exert his ingenuity in exhibiting new views of moral and religious topics. To embellish the most common subjects, which are certainly the most proper and useful, with new ornaments; to persuade by more forcible and captivating illustration; to unite the beauties of elegant diction, and the splendour of fine imagery; in this lay his chief exertions, and here rests his chief praise."


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