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Significant Scots
John Ogilvy


OGILVY, JOHN,a poet and geographer, was born in the year 1600, at or near Edinburgh. While he was very young, his parents removed with him to London, where his father, some time after, fell into debt, and was confined in the King’s Bench prison. Notwithstanding family misfortunes, the subject of this memoir was able to pick up a slender knowledge of Latin grammar. What is still more to his praise, he put himself apprentice to a teacher of dancing, and with the first money he procured from his master, freed his father from confinement. A sprain which he got in dancing at a masque put a temporary stop to his career in this profession, and made him slightly lame ever after, yet he is found to have been retained by the celebrated earl of Strafford as teacher of dancing in his lordship’s family, at the same time that he accompanied the earl to Ireland, as one of his troop of guards. At this time he wrote a humorous piece, entitled "The Character of a Trooper." Under favour of the earl of Strafford, he became in time Master of Revels, and built a theatre in Dublin. The civil war, however, which had made shipwreck of the fortunes of his patron, seems to have also blasted the prospects of Ogilvy, who, about the time of its conclusion, arrived in a necessitous condition in London, and soon after applied himself at Cambridge to remedy the defects of his original education. In the latter object he succeeded so far as to be able to publish, in 1649, his translation of Virgil into English verse; which was followed in 1660 by a similar version of Homer. In 1651 he produced "The Fables of AEsop, paraphrased in verse," in a quarto volume, with recommendatory verses prefixed by Sir William Davenant, and James Shirley, the dramatic poet. Four years afterwards he published another volume of translations from AEsop, with some fables of his own. Ogilvy was a fertile writer of original verses. We are fortunately saved the trouble of making an estimate of his literary character, by Winstanly, whose panegyric, utterly preclusive of all rivalry, is as follows:— "John Ogilvy was one who, from a late initiation into literature, made such progress as might well style him the prodigy of his time; sending into the world so many large volumes; his translations of Homer and Virgil, done to the life, and with such excellent sculptures; and, what added great grace to his works, he printed them all on special good paper, and of a very good letter." Miserable as his translation of Homer is allowed to have been, it was a favourite of Pope in his younger days, and it is impossible to say to what extent we may be indebted for the beautiful versions of the latter writer to the early bias thus given to his taste. It is also to be mentioned, to the honour of Ogilvy, that the elegance of the typography of his translations was in a great measure owing to his own exertions for the improvement of that art. The engravings, moreover, which he caused to be executed for his Virgil were of such superior merit for their time, as to be afterwards employed in illustrating an edition of the original poet, and subsequently for the decoration of Dryden’s translation. At the Restoration, our author was replaced in his situation of Master of the Revels in Ireland, and once more erected his theatre in the capital of that kingdom. His chief attention, however, seems to have been now devoted to the composition of an epic poem, entitled the "Carolics," in honour of Charles I., the manuscript of which was lost in the great fire of London, when his house was burnt down. He immediately commenced reprinting all his former publications, and sold them, as he had previously done, by means of a lottery, whereby he now raised 4210, which enabled him to set up a printing office, for the purpose of producing geographical works, he having received the appointment of cosmographer and geographic printer to the king. In this capacity he projected a general Atlas of the world, of which he only lived to complete the parts descriptive of China, Japan, Africa, Persia, Britain, &c. He also produced several topographical works, one of which, entitled, "The Traveller’s Guide," describing the roads of England from his own actual survey, was long a well-known and serviceable book. Mr Ogilvy concluded an active, and, upon the whole, useful life, in 1676.


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