Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The History of Glasgow
Volume 3 - Chapter XLIII - Learning and Literature

LITERARY activities took longer in the West of Scotland than in the east to recover from the ecclesiastical obsession of the Reformation and the Covenant. Perhaps the embargo of the universities against the use of the vernacular was in both cases a cause of delay in literary development. While Scotland was rich, from early times, in songs and ballads, the entertainment of the people, it was almost barren of a deliberate literature in prose. An example was set in 1536, when John Bellenden, at the command of James V., translated the Historic Scotorum of Hector Boece into the vernacular. The example in the use of the native language was followed by one or two historians of Queen Mary's time, such as John Leslie, Bishop of Ross, and Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, with, of course, Scotland's master of partizan invective, John Knox.

In its literary record Glasgow can claim John Major, for he seems to have written part of his Historic Hajoris Byitannice after he became a regent of the College here, [Dr. David Murray thinks the latter part of Major's Hisloria may have been written at Glasgow, as it was not published till 1521, and contains certain detailed references to the city.—Memories of the Old College of Glasgow, p. 23.] but it cannot claim Archbishop Spottiswood, for he wrote his history long after 1615, when he was transferred from the See of Glasgow to that of St. Andrews. The city's achievements in literature may be taken as having begun with the work of the redoubtable Zachary Boyd, minister of the Barony, who, on an October Sunday in the year 1650, from the pulpit in the Cathedral crypt, told Oliver Cromwell exactly what he thought of him and the church to which he belonged. From Boyd's poetical work, Zion's Flowers, and metrical version of the Psalms, and his prose Last Battle of the Soul in Death, Glasgow has no literary production to record for fifty years and more, till 1721 when Robert Wodrow, the devout minister of Eastwood -parish, a few miles to the south of the city, published his History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution. That mine of Covenanting tradition, which drew a gift of a hundred guineas from George I., and supplied Macaulay with a large part of the material for his account of the period, remains the most respected presentation of its subject from the Covenanters' point of view.

After Wodrow came another silence, this time of a quarter of a century, which was broken by a writer of very different character indeed. Dougal Graham, the hump-backed skellat bellman of the city, who had accompanied Prince Charles Edward's army from its crossing of the Fords of Frew till its overthrow at Culloden, has been justly called the Rabelais of Scotland. The chapbooks which he wrote, printed, and sold himself were probably the most popular literature of their time, their coarse jokes and unspeakable episodes making the merriment in every ploughman's bothy throughout the country. Hardly less popular was his rhymed History of the Rebellion, which went through eight editions within sixty years and among his shorter pieces in verse, his "Turnimspike" won the admiration of both Burns and Sir Walter Scott.

It was at the same time that Smollett, on hearing of the atrocities in the Highlands committed by the soldiers of the Duke of Cumberland after the battle of Culloden, wrote his fine verses "The Tears of Scotland." Though Smollett's novels were not written in Glasgow, the first and the last of them, Roderick Random and Humphrey Clinker, both contain impressions of the city and portraits of certain citizens which make them part of the literature of the place. The shop of Dr. John Gordon, the surgeon, with whom the novelist served his apprenticeship, and in which he gained his knowledge of Glasgow, stood at the north corner of Saltmarket and Princes Street. [Literary Landmarks of Glasgow, p. 15.]

Mention has already been made of Mrs. Grant of Laggan, whose father, Captain McVicar, was among those who lost their estates in America on the outbreak of the War of Independence; but though she was born in the Goosedubs, and wrote some of her poetry in the city after her return from America, her finest song, "O where, tell me where," was written at Laggan, and during the brilliant literary career which followed, she lived in Edinburgh.

Another song, however, which is not less deservedly popular, was written by a Lord Provost of Glasgow. When Scotsmen gather to see the old year out and the new year in, "Here's to the year that's awa'" expresses exactly the emotion of the moment, and is almost as likely to be sung as "Auld Lang Syne." Its author, John Dunlop, was born in Carmyle House in 1755, and was Lord Provost in 1796. A member of the famous Hodge Podge Club, described by Dr. Strang in Glasgow and its Clubs, he was "a typical Glasgow citizen, social and hospitable, who took much pleasure in listening to Scottish songs, and could sing them himself to good effect." [The Glasgow Poets, p. 60.]

The establishment of the Foulis Press and their publishing and bookselling business by the brothers Foulis in 1741 no doubt gave a new impetus to the taste for literature in Glasgow. John Mayne, author of the earlier of the two finest poems describing the city, served an apprenticeship of five years in that establishment, and printed the first edition of that poem in The Glasgow Magazine in 1783. An early edition of his most famous poem, "The Siller Gun," describing the humours of the annual wapinschawing at Dumfries, appeared in Ruddiman's Magazine in the same year, and his "Hallowe'en," which afforded Burns the model for his more famous poem on the same subject, appeared in Ruddiman's three years earlier—all several years before the poet betook himself to London for a journalistic career. Mayne was one of the most notable models utilized by Burns, and in one instance at any rate—Mayne's "Logan Braes" which Burns took to be antique, and re-wrote as "Logan Water"—the Glasgow poet's production must be acknowledged as the better of the two.

It seems strange that the two poets never met, but by the time Burns had occasion to visit Glasgow in 1786 Mayne had removed to Dumfries, and by the time Burns settled at Ellis-land in 1787 Mayne had gone to London. [The Glasgow Poets, p. 64.]

In the second half of the eighteenth century the divine fire of intellectual life was burning at its brightest within the walls of the venerable University in the High Street. The dead hand of Latin speech in classroom and quadrangle had by that time been entirely shaken off, though the brilliant Francis Hutcheson, to whom the removal of that incubus was owed, was still upholding "commonsense" reasoning in the Moral Philosophy classes in 1746. Robert Simson, who has been called the restorer of Euclid, and who was to leave to the University the most complete collection of mathematical books in the kingdom, was delivering his prelections in exact science till 1768. William Cullen, who revolutionized both the study of chemistry and the practice of medicine, occupied the chairs of these subjects in succession till 1756. Adam Smith, founder of the science of Political Economy and author of that famous classic on the subject, The Wealth of Nations, was Professor of Logic and afterwards of Moral Philosophy from 1751 till 1763. During those years he developed and published his great ethical work, the Theory of Moral Sentiments, and though he did not write his monumental Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations till he had returned from his three years' travels with the young Duke of Buccleuch in 1766, he had, as he himself declared, acquired a knowledge of many of the facts upon which that work was based from intercourse with Provost Cochrane and other Glasgow merchants, and had given his students the benefit of his theories on the subject. When the Senate of Glasgow University in 1762 conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, it acknowledged the advantage which had accrued to the students from "the ability with which he had, for many years, expounded the principles of jurisprudence." And when in 1787 he was elected Lord Rector it was as much in grateful memory of these services, as in esteem for the world-fame of his later career. [The author of The Wealth of Nations is commemorated in Glasgow to-day by the Adam Smith Chair of Political Economy founded in the University in 1896. The germs of The Wealth of Nations are to be found in the lately discovered lectures on "Justice and Policy" which Adam Smith delivered to his Moral Philosophy class in Glasgow.—Mackinnon, Social and Industrial History of Scotland, p. 41.]

The activities of John Anderson, professor of Natural Philosophy, have already been described. His fame lives not so much by the matter which he taught as by the departure he originated in the teaching of practical science, and the teaching of it to a practical audience. Among the other occupants of chairs were Thomas Hamilton, professor of Anatomy, who was succeeded in 1781 by his more illustrious son, `William Hamilton, the celebrated surgeon, James Moor, professor of Greek, George Ross, professor of Humanity, and William Leechman, professor of Divinity, who became Principal in 1761.

The enlightened and social spirit of the time, in the University and the city, may be gathered from the fact that these and other occupants of chairs, along with merchants like Robert Boyle, William Crawford, and John Grahame of Dougalston, with other individuals such as William Mure of Caldwell, John Callender of Craigforth, William Craig minister of the Wynd Church, Sir John Dalrymple, advocate, and Robert Foulis, the University printer, formed themselves in 1752 into the Literary Society of Glasgow. That society met every Friday evening in the University, and the quality of its transactions was in every way worthy of the standing of its members. [Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 24.]

Of the members of that society not a few were also members of the celebrated Anderston Club, founded and presided over by Professor Simson, who dined every Saturday in the hostelry kept by " ane God-fearing host," John Sharp, in the village a mile to the west of Glasgow cross. Something of the atmosphere of that club may be surmised from the character of its president as described by Jupiter Carlyle. "Mr. Simson," he says, "though a great humorist, who had a very particular way of living, was well-bred and complaisant, was a comely man of good size, and had a very prepossessing appearance. He lived entirely in a small tavern opposite the College gate, kept by a Mrs. Millar. He breakfasted, dined, and supped there, almost never accepted any invitations to dinner, and paid no visits but to illustrious or learned strangers who wished to see the University. On such occasions he was always the cicerone." When it is added that the Anderston Club applauded Simson's Greek verse with great gusto, it will be judged that this coterie was no mere commonplace convivial assembly. Following the two-o'clock dinner, with its favourite introductory dish of "hen-broth"—something stronger than to-day's chicken soup—there was talk "on philosophy and science, on art and literature—on all the world then knew, and all that it was predicted it would become." [Ibid. p. 25.]

The weekly gatherings of the Literary Society and the Anderston Club were in fact no unworthy equivalents of the gatherings at the "Cheshire Cheese" and other Fleet Street taverns of which Dr. Samuel Johnson was the autocrat and

leading luminary. It was merely their misfortune to have no James Boswell to chronicle and embellish with a touch of genius their annals, their wit combats, and their flashes of wisdom.

This last fact is the more to be regretted since Boswell was himself a student at Glasgow University, and must have derived from his experience there no little part of the inspiration which was to make him one of the most brilliant writers of travels as well as the greatest of all British biographers. It was through the brothers Foulis of Glasgow that he published his first highly popular works on Corsica and the Corsican patriots whose leader was Paoli, and when in 1771, he escorted Paoli to Glasgow, the visitors were received at the University by a body of the professors, and entertained with cake and wine in the library. [Coutts, Hist. Univ. Glasgow, p. 305.] When, two years later, Boswell brought the subject of his greatest book to Glasgow, and installed him in the famous Saracen's Head Inn in Gallowgate, Dr. Johnson did not in any way outshine or dominate the little group of University professors and others who came to welcome him to the city. On that occasion Johnson and Boswell entertained three of the professors to breakfast; they were conducted round the town by Professor John Anderson, afterwards founder of Anderson's College, and they visited Principal Leechman in his own house.

Among other notable literary pilgrims from the south of the Border who were attracted to visit Glasgow at that time was Thomas Gray, author of the "Elegy in a Country Churchyard," who came in 1764 to arrange for the publication of an edition of his poems by the brothers Foulis. Dodsley's editions, published in London, the poet declared to be "far inferior to that of Glasgow." [Literary Landmarks of Glasgow, p. 29.] Also, thirty years after Boswell and Johnson, came William Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In her Memorials, Dorothy recorded that it rained nearly all the time of their visit, and they only noticed the busy streets, the picturesqueness of the Trongate, and "the largest coffee-room I ever saw"—probably the Tontine. They did not see the Cathedral.

All these visitors lodged at the Saracen's Head, as also did the Lords of Session when they came to hold their courts of assize in the town. On these occasions "the Lords" entertained the magistrates to feasts in which the mighty punchbowl of the establishment figured, as well as oceans of the claret for which the hostelry was famous.

Next to the literary associations of the Saracen's Head, its most famous memory was the arrival at its door of the first mail-coach from London on 7th July, 1788. So important was the event that the proprietor of the inn, with a troop of horsemen, and trumpets blowing, rode out along the Gallowgate to welcome the coach as it came galloping in.

It was, however, another inn to which Robert Burns resorted when he visited Glasgow. The national poet was more often in the city than has been generally supposed, and it was only by chance that the first edition of his work was not published there instead of at Kilmarnock. When, on a summer day in 1786, he came in over the beautiful old bridge which still stands in the glen at Cathcart, he had his poems in his pocket, along with an introduction to William Reid, a young man in the employment of Dunlop & Wilson, booksellers, printers, and publishers in Trongate. The young assistant recognized the merit of the poems. " Don't talk of the West Indies, sir ! " he exclaimed, when Burns mentioned his project of going abroad, " Edinburgh, not Jamaica, is the place for you!" But neither Dunlop & Wilson, nor any other of the Glasgow printers, would undertake the issue—the Foulises were by that time out of business—and the poet, on his way home through Kilmarnock, made his arrangement with John Wilson, the printer there. [Hately Waddell, Life and Works of Burns, quoted in Literary Landmarks of Glasgow, p. 57.]

The details of Burns's connection with Glasgow would have been much more fully known but for the fact that in the flood of the Clyde in February 1831, Reid's house was inundated, and all his Burns letters were destroyed. [Reid afterwards became a partner in the bookselling business of Brash & Reid, and, something of a poet himself, wrote a third sixteen lines to his friend's song "Of a' the airts the wind can blaw."—The Glasgow Poets, p. 116.] In 1787, however, and in 1788 the poet was frequently in the city, and it seems somewhat surprising that he received there nothing like the recognition and ovation which greeted him in Edinburgh. Perhaps he was too near home. Glasgow has always been rather apt to fulfil the adage regarding a prophet in his own country. He made the Black Bull at the foot of Virginia Street his headquarters, and there one night in February 1788, on arriving from the capital, he sat down and wrote one of his most impassioned letters to "Clarinda"—herself, by the way, a Glasgow girl, her father a Glasgow surgeon, and her uncle a Glasgow minister. That night at the Black Bull he entertained his brother William and Captain Richard Brown, the friend of his days at Irvine, and next day Reid escorted him as far as Govan on his way to Paisley. [Literary Landmarks, p. 64. A very full account of Burns's connections with the city will be found in this work.]

Burns had a number of other friends in Glasgow, including James Candlish, a student at the University, to whom he wrote several interesting letters. But of these friends the most notable was Dr. Moore, the author of Zeluco, and father of the still more famous Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna. It cannot be forgotten that but for the contents of the poet's autobiographical letter to Dr. Moore we should be without many most interesting details of his early life.

The statue of Burns unveiled in George Square in 1877 may be held to testify for Glasgow nothing more than the admiration of the poet displayed by Scotsmen everywhere; but a quite special memorial is the great collection of Burns literature in the Poets' Corner of the Mitchell Library, probably the finest collection in existence.

Another man of letters of the highest distinction who had a close association with Glasgow in the late years of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth, was Sir Walter Scott. Like Burns, Scott was more frequently in Glasgow than is generally supposed. His duties in connection with the Court of Session brought him to the city at regular intervals. On these occasions his resort for refreshment was the Institution tavern in King Street, and there, for many years after his time, the ring at the door was pointed out as that to which he fastened his horse, and visitors were shewn the "loupin'-on stane" from which he reached the saddle. That "Institution" was a favourite rendezvous of the College professors and students, who presented it with a dozen silver tankards, duly inscribed. The tankards, eleven of them at least, are still in existence, and were no doubt frequently used by Scott himself.

On one of these legal visits Scott was present at the trial of the murderer Mackean, and afterwards went to see the condemned man in his cell—the murder was a particularly diabolical one, and the murderer a sanctimonious rascal. [Lockhart's Life of Scott, chap. viii. Strang, Glasgow and its Clubs, p. 489.] In 1808 the novelist induced Constable to publish the little volume including "The Poor Alan's Sabbath," by the Glasgow cobbler-poet, John Struthers. In 1814, at the end of his cruise in the yacht of the Lighthouse Commissioners, he voyaged up the Clyde, from Greenock to the Broomielaw, in one of the first river steamers—the "Comet" had been launched only two years before. And in 1817, along with his friend Captain Adam Ferguson, he was conducted round the sights of the city by John Smith, the bookseller of Hutcheson Street—the tour in which he gathered materials for his romance, Rob Roy. Still later, in 1825, Scott passed through Glasgow again, accompanied by his daughter Anne and Lockhart, and at dinner on the steamer as he sailed down the river, sat beside a certain Bailie Tennant, who, as he brewed a second bowl of punch for the party, remarked with a sly wink that in that office he "was reckoned a fair hand, though not equal to his father, the deacon."

In view of the greatness of the man, to say nothing of the fact that he placed Glasgow permanently in the gallery of literature with one of the greatest of his romances, Rob Roy, it seems strange that Scott was three times a candidate for the Lord Rectorship of the University—against Sir James Mackintosh, Lord Brougham, and Thomas Campbell—without success. It was only after lie was dead, and the heroic drama of his fight against misfortune was over, that the citizens hastened to set up his monument in the middle of their Valhalla, George Square.

In the later decades of the eighteenth century Glasgow was producing its own galaxy of literary genuis. Greatest of its stars was Thomas Campbell, who at the age of twenty-two, upon the publication of his Pleasures of Hope, became the greatest poet of the day. Born near the foot of Balmanno Brae in George Street, [Literary Landmarks of Glasgow, p. 79.] the eleventh child of one of the city's Virginia merchants, he won an early fame at the old College in High Street as a teller of stories, a player on the flute, and a winner of prizes for English and Greek verses. His verse essay on "The Origin of Evil " got him a reputation far beyond the College walls, and the signboard which at midnight he set up over the adjoining shops of two quarrelsome neighbours, a publican named Drum and an apothecary Fyfe, who pierced ears for earrings, set the whole town in a roar with its legend-

"The ear-piercing Fife, the spirit-stirring Drum!"

It was while tutoring General Napier's son at Downie House on the Kintyre coast below Crinan, that a letter from his College friend, the witty Hamilton Paul, set him to writing The Pleasures of Hope, for which, in 1799, Mundell, the Edinburgh publisher, gave him £6o at sight and occasional sums of £50 afterwards. By that time his family had removed from their later house in Charlotte Street to Edinburgh, and Campbell's connection with Glasgow ceased, with the exception of one glorious visit in 1815, till he returned in 1827 to be chaired triumphantly as Lord Rector by the students of his old alma mater. Curiously enough, on that occasion his election was bitterly opposed by the professors, who even prevented him from delivering two lectures to the students on "The History of Learning." His later championing of the cause of Poland shewed him to be as broad in his sympathies as his songs showed him to be patriotic in spirit.

Campbell remains the greatest of the Glasgow poets, but he was not the only literary genius whom the city produced at that time. It cannot be forgotten that the writers of the two greatest biographies in the English language, James Boswell and J. G. Lockhart, were students at the old College—Boswell as a student of Civil Law and of Moral Philosophy under Adam Smith, and Lockhart, son of the old minister of the Blackfriars Church, as winner of a Snell exhibition which carried him, as the Snell exhibitions have carried so many other men of future distinction, to Balliol College at Oxford. [The Snell Exhibitions, now five in number, of £80 each, tenable for four years, were founded by John Snell, himself a Glasgow student, who fought for Charles II at Worcester, and acted as secretary to the Duke of Monmouth. The late Lord Newlands increased the amount by £100 per annum to each holder.] Lockhart left a notable mark in the annals of Glasgow itself with "Captain Paton's Lament," a quaint elegy on a quaint personage in the city in his time. Dr. John Moore, son of one of the daughters of that worthy citizen, John Anderson of Dowhill, [Supra, p. 20.] was the author of many successful books besides the novel Zeluco, though he is chiefly remembered from the facts that he corresponded with Burns and was the father of Sir John Moore. James Grahame, author of The Sabbath, of Mary Stuart, an Historical Drama, and of The Birds of Scotland, was the son of a Glasgow writer, who got his inspiration on the bosky banks of the Cart, south of the city, and notwithstanding the criticisms of the Edinburgh Review and Lord Byron, is regarded, not unjustly, as the Cowper of Scotland. It was his death, in 1811, which first stirred the genius of his friend, John Wilson, to poetry. [The Glasgow Poets, p. 125.] Wilson himself, the future "Christopher North," Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh, and one of the brilliant coterie which made that city "the Modern Athens," won his earliest fame as much by his astonishing athletic ability as by his facility in writing verse when attending the classes at Glasgow University. He received there, from Professors Young and Jardine, the impulses which led him, later, to adopt a life of letters, and which fitted him, when in 1808, his father, the wealthy gauze manufacturer at Paisley, died, and he bought the beautiful estate of Elleray on Windermere, to associate with men like Wordsworth, Southey, and De Quincey, who were making that region famous.

There were also the two sons of Dr. William Hamilton, Professor of Anatomy and Chemistry. Of these the elder, William, in 1816 revived the baronetcy of Preston, forfeited by his ancestor Sir Robert Hamilton, leader of the Covenanters at Drumclog and Bothwell Bridge, and, as Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in Edinburgh, acquired a reputation as the first metaphysician in Europe. The younger brother, Thomas, was the author of Cyril Thornton, a novel which stands beside Humphrey Clinker, Rob Roy, and Galt's Entail, for its pictures of Glasgow life and character: Joanna Baillie, again, had been at school in Glasgow for four years before her father became Professor of Divinity in the University. Her plays have been described as "the best ever written by a woman," her songs are among the Scottish classics, and her friendship with Sir Walter Scott remains one of the most famous in literature.

Joanna Baillie had yet another connection with Glasgow, for her mother was a sister of the famous London surgeons and anatomists, William and John Hunter. At his death in 1783 William Hunter left £2000 to the poetess, his practice to her brother Matthew Baillie, and his great collections to his alma mater, Glasgow University, where they still form a very notable feature, the Hunterian Museum.

Something of a new departure for the West of Scotland was made when Brash & Reid, from their shop in Trongate, between the years 1795 and 1798, issued their Poetry, Original and Selected. The production was evidently modelled on Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany. It was issued in penny numbers, and ultimately formed four volumes. It included a number of Reid's own compositions, as well as some by Robert Lochore, his fellow laureate of the Hodge Podge Club. But perhaps its chief merit lay in suggesting the later Whistlebinkie of 1832, to which the chief contributors were Alexander Rodger, the "Radical Poet," author of "Robin Tamson's Smiddy," "Behave yoursel' before folk," and other lyrics, J. D. Carrick, editor of the famous collection of Scottish humour, The Laird of Logan, and William Motherwell, journalist, politician, and poet, whose Minstrelsy Ancient and Modern remains perhaps the best representative collection of Scottish ballads.

These last-named notables belong rather to the early decades of the nineteenth century than to the last decades of the eighteenth. So also does Robert Pollok, author of that once immensely popular poem, "The Course of Time," who died in 1827 at the age of 29, in the very hour of achieving fame. Similarly cut off in his prime, in 1826, was William Glen, son of a considerable West India merchant, who besides his

well-known song, "Wae's me for Prince Charlie," was the author of a number of lyrics, some of which, like "The Battle of Vittoria," enjoyed a vast popularity in their day. And to the same period, outstanding in the field of fiction, belongs Michael Scott, born at Cowlairs House, whose creation, Tom Cringle's Log, printed first as anonymous occasional articles in Black-wood's Magazine, remains the richest and most racy picture of the West Indian life of its author's time.

In the arena of learning it is worth remembering that the founder of the famous McGill University at Montreal was a Glasgow man. Born in the city in 1744, and migrating to Canada before the American Revolution, James McGill carried with him memories of the ancient College in High Street, and when he died, a Member of Parliament and a Brigadier-General, in 1813, left his estate of Burnside and a sum of £10,000 to found the university which bears his name.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus