1896 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Wilkie

George Eyre-Todd, in Scottish Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1896) 1:160.



The author of the once-talked-of poem, the Epigoniad, was one of those Scotsmen, types of their race, who have attained their ends by incredible struggle through difficulties and obstacles. Recalled from Edinburgh University, by his father's death, to manage the farm and support his three sisters, he yet persevered with his studies, was licensed, and became minister of the parish of Ratho in Midlothian. Here he wrought his way to some reputation as a poet, though he certainly never deserved the title which Hume rashly conferred upon him of "the Scottish Homer." Absent-minded, and uncouth in manners, though indeed kind of heart, he was but ill-fitted for the dignity of the pulpit. His sound qualities, however, got him the post of Professor of Natural Philosophy at St. Andrews, and in 1766 the University there conferred on him the degree of D.D. As professor he no doubt exercised considerable influence on the youth of the country. In particular he is known to have shown friendship towards Robert Fergusson, when a student in his class.

The Epigoniad, Wilkie's chief work, an ambitious epic in nine books descriptive of the siege of Thebes, appeared in 1757. Its inspiration was obviously owed to Pope's translation of the Iliad and Odyssey, and it has many shortcomings not to be found in its model — Scotticisms, false rhymes and rhythm, and even flaws of language. Many passages, however, are conceived in singularly happy vein, and the story is vigorous and crisp. Wilkie also wrote a Dream in the manner of Spenser, and a volume of somewhat commonplace poetic fables. His poems were included in Chalmers' English Poets in 1810.