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Significant Scots
Andrew Picken

PICKEN, ANDREW.—This amiable and agreeable writer in miscellaneous literature, was born at Paisley in 1788. His father, who was a wealthy and thriving manufacturer of the town of Paisley, intended that his son Andrew should follow the mercantile profession, and to that effect the youth was

educated. While still very young, he repaired to the West Indies, but finding, on close trial, that the office he held offered few of those advantages it had promised, he returned home, and obtained a confidential situation in the Bank of Ireland. Here he might have enjoyed years of tranquil comfort, and retired at last with a competence, if he could have contented himself with the monotonous routine of a banking establishment; but, having either too much genius, or too little firmness and self-denial for such a life, he threw up his charge, to the great regret of his friends in Ireland; returned to Scotland, and commenced business in Glasgow on his own account. But, unluckily for his interests, the same restless and aspiring spirit continued to haunt him; and finding the occupation of the counting-house insufficient, he combined them with the more attractive and congenial pursuits of authorship. We can easily guess how such a merchant would be regarded in those days by his brethren of the Tontine, and what faith they would attach to bills subscribed by the same hand that wrote stories and novels. In the meantime, his first work came out, under the title of "Tales and Sketches of the West of Scotland;" and, independently of the novelty of such a rara avis as a Glasgow litterateur, the intrinsic merits of the work itself secured for it a large share of local popularity. Among these tales, that of "Mary Ogilvie" is an admirable specimen of his dramatic power in investing ordinary events with high interest, and giving them unwonted influence over our best feelings. As an offset, however, to this, one of the sketches produced a very opposite effect; it was "On the Changes of the West of Scotland during the last Half Century;" and every one aware of these changes can easily divine how hard his notices must have occasionally borne upon some of the most influential and worshipful of the rising city of Glasgow. These notices Mr. Picken did not withhold; on the contrary, he revelled among them with such satirical glee, that the strongest part of the community was in arms against him. This, and other additional causes, soon made the metropolis of the west too hot for him, and accordingly he removed to Liverpool. The change of place was accompanied by change of occupation, for in the town of his new residence he commenced the trade of bookseller.

From the foregoing statement it will easily be judged, that whether merchant, banker, or bookseller, Mr. Picken was not likely to be prosperous. He had no love of traffic, either for its own sake or for its profits; and, besides this, he was too sanguine and too credulous either to win money or to keep it. This was especially the case in 1826, when mercantile speculation was so rampant. Induced by the persuasions of friends, he embarked his all among the hazardous ventures of the day, and that all was lost. Even then, however, when his books as a bankrupt were inspected, his integrity was so manifest, that his creditors, after sympathizing with him in his losses, were ready to aid him in commencing business anew; but of this he seemed to think he had got enough. He now resolved to surrender himself wholly to literature as a profession, and for that purpose he removed to London, with a novel in his pocket, the composition of which had been his solace in the season of distress. This work, entitled the "Sectarian," was published by Colburn, and on its first appearance excited considerable attention, on account of its vivid sketches, chiefly of morbid feelings and their effects; but however such anatomy may interest for the moment, a reaction of pain, or even of absolute disgust is certain to follow, and the work is thrown aside, never to be reopened. This, however, was not the chief cause that made the "Sectarian" a failure. It contained such a sketch of religious melancholy, terminating in madness, as gave offence to the sober-minded, drawn though it was from a living reality. Although this literary production was so unfortunate in itself that it never became popular, and soon passed away, its evidently powerful writing was the means of introducing its author to the editors of our chief periodicals, who were glad to avail themselves of his services, on which account he was a frequent contributor to the reviews and magazines of the day.

Mr. Picken had now fully embarked in authorship as a trade, and with such an amount of talent and perseverance as might have won his way to fortune in any other department. In 1830 he published the "Dominie’s Legacy," a work whose success made ample amends for the failure of the "Sectarian," as it raised him at once to a high rank among the delineators of Scottish humble life. In this, too, he succeeded all the more, that instead of converting facts into mere pegs for theories and opinions of his own, he tells right onward what he saw and what he felt, and makes truth and reality everything--a process in which he was sure to carry along with him at least nine-tenths of his readers. His next work was the "Lives of Eminent Missionaries," which he undertook for "Colburn’s Juvenile Library;" but as this serial publication was brought to a close before his lives were ready for the press, they were subsequently published in a separate volume by Kidd, and passed through two large impressions. Picken’s next work was "The Club Book," a collection of papers, some of which were contributed by distinguished living writers; but even among these, his own tales were not of inferior interest or power. In proof of this may be mentioned the "Three Kearneys," a sketch of Irish life, and the "Deer-stalkers." Soon after the "Club Book," he published a work on the Canadas, but chiefly a compilation, in which he received important aid from his friend Mr. Galt. This was followed by "Waltham," a tale, which appeared in Leitch Ritchie’s "Library of Romance."

This rapid succession of works within so brief a period, only seemed to animate Picken to further efforts, and, in 1832, he published "Traditionary Stories of Old Families," in two volumes. He thus ascended to what might be termed the fountain-head and source of the romance of biography. As this was designed merely as the first part of a series that should comprise the legendary history of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the work excited considerable interest among the aristocracy, many of whom offered him free access to their family archives, for the successful continuation of his task. But before he could avail himself of this courteous permission, his career was suddenly terminated. On the 10th of November, 1833, while conversing with his son, he was struck down in a moment with apoplexy, but afterwards rallied so effectually, that hopes of his full recovery were entertained by his family and friends. These hopes proved fallacious, for after an evening of cheerful conversation with his wife and children, he expired early next morning (the 23d of November), but so tranquilly, that he seemed only to have turned himself again to sleep.

Besides the works we have already enumerated, Picken, a short time before he died, had completed the "Black Watch," a tale containing the origin of the 42nd regiment, and its exploits during the period of Fontenoy, and those stirring campaigns which, as yet, historical novel-writing had left untouched. This work, which he regarded as his best, was the only legacy which he could bequeath to his wife and six children, who were left otherwise unprovided by his death.

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