1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Grant

William Anderson, in Scottish Biographical Dictionary (1845) 361-79.



Anne GRANT, usually designated Mrs Grant of Laggan, a popular and instructive miscellaneous writer, whose maiden name was M'Vicar, was born in Glasgow in 1755. Her father was an officer in the British army, and, on her mother's side, she was descended from the ancient family of Stewart of Invernahyle, in Argyleshire. Shortly after her birth, her father went with his regiment to America, with the intention, if he found sufficient inducement, of settling there. His wife and infant daughter soon after joined him. They landed at Charlestown, and though the child was then scarcely three years old, she retained ever after a distinct recollection of her arrival in America. During her residence in that country, she was taught by her mother to read, and she never had any other instructor. But she was so apt and diligent a scholar, that, before her sixth year, she had perused the Old Testament, with the contents of which she was well acquainted. About the same time she also learnt to speak the Dutch language, in consequence of being domesticated for some time with a family of Dutch colonists in the state of New York. From the sergeant of a Scottish regiment she received the only lessons in penmanship she ever obtained; and observing her love of books, he presented her with a copy of Blind Harry's "Wallace," the perusal of which excited in her bosom a lasting admiration of the heroism of Wallace and his compatriots, and a glowing enthusiasm for Scotland, which, as she herself expressed it, ever after remained with her as a principle of life. Her fondness for reading also procured for her, from an officer of her father's regiment, a copy of Milton's Paradise Lost, which, young as she was, she studied with much attention. Indeed, to her diligent perusal of this book she herself ascribed the formation of her character, observing that, whatever she possessed of elevation of spirit, expansions of mind, or tast for the sublime and beautiful, she owed it all to her familiarity with Milton. The effect of this became so evident in her conversation and habits as to secure for her the notice of several of the most eminent settlers in the state of New York, and, in particular, to procure for her the friendship of the celebrated Madame Schuyler, whose worth and virtues Mrs. Grant has extolled in her Memoirs of an American Lady.

Mrs. Grant's father had, with the view of permanently settling in America, received a large grant of land, to which, by purchase, he made several valuable additions; but, from bad health, he was obliged to leave the country very hurriedly, without having had time to dispose of his property. He returned to Scotland with his wife and daughter in 1768, and a few years afterwards he was appointed Barrack-Master of Fort Augustus. — Soon after the Revolutionary War broke out in America, and before his estate could be sold it was confiscated, and thus the family were deprived of the chief means to which they had looked forward for support. While her father continued in the situation of Barrack-Master, the office of chaplain to the Fort was filled by the Rev. James Grant, a young clergyman of accomplished mind and manners, connected with some of the most respectable families in the neighbourhood, who was soon afterwards appointed minister of the parish of Laggan, in Inverness-shire, and in 1779 he married Miss M'Vicar, the subject of this notice. When she went to Laggan, she set herself assiduously to learn the customs and the language of the people among whom she was to reside, and soon became well versed in both. Of the marriage twelve children were born, four of whom died in early life. For some time after her husband's death Mrs Grant took the charge of a small farm in the neighbourhood of Laggan; but in 1803 she found it necessary to remove to the vicinity of Stirling, where she was enabled, with the assistance of her friends, to provide, in the meantime, for her family.

Mrs. Grant had always found delight in the pursuits of literature; and having early shown a taste for poetry, when was occasionally accustomed to write verses. Of her poems, which were generally written in haste, her friends formed a much higher opinion than she herself did. She usually gave them away, when finished, without retaining a copy. It occurred to some of these persons who felt interested in her welfare, that a volume of her poems might be published with advantage; and, before she was well aware of their kind intentions, the prospectus was dispersed all over Scotland for printing such a volume by description. At this time Mrs. Grant had not even collected the materials for the proposed publication; but, in a short period, the extraordinary number of upwards of 3000 subscribers were procured by her influential friends. The late celebrated Duchess of Gordon took a lively interest in this project, and Mrs Grant was in this way almost forced before the public. The poems were well received on their appearance in 1803; and even the Edinburgh Review, that then universal disparager of poetic genius, was constrained to admit that some of the pieces were "written with great beauty, tenderness, and delicacy." From the profits of this publication Mrs Grant was enabled to discharge some debts which had been contracted during her married life. In 1806 appeared her well-known "Letters from the Mountains," which went through several editions, and soon rendered her name highly popular.

In 1810 Mrs Grant removed from Stirling to Edinburgh, where she resided for the remainder of her life. Here it was her misfortune to lose by death all her children except her youngest son. In 1808 she prepared for the press her Memoirs of an American Lady, in two volumes; and in 1811 appeared her Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland, also in two volumes, both of which were favourably received. The former work has been greatly esteemed both in this country and in America, and contains much vigorous writing with some highly graphic sketches of Transatlantic scenery, with habits of the people, previous to the Revolution. In 1814 she published a poem in two parts, entitled Eighteen-Hundred and Thirteen, and the following year she produced at London her Popular Models and Impressive Warnings for the Sons and Daughters of Industry, in two volumes.

In 1825 an application was made on her behalf to George IV. for a pension, which was signed by Sir Walter Scott, Lord Jeffrey, Mr. MacKenzie, "The Man of Feeling," and other influential persons in Edinburgh, in consequence of which Mrs. Grant received a pension of 100 yearly on the civil establishment of Scotland, which, with the emoluments of her literary works, and some liberal bequests left her by deceased friends, rendered her circumstances in her latter years quite easy and independent. She died November 7, 1838, aged 84.