1855 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Grant

Charles Rogers, in Modern Scottish Minstrel (1855-57) 1:99-103.



MRS ANNE GRANT, commonly styled of Laggan, to distinguish her from her contemporary, Mrs Grant of Carron, was born at Glasgow, in February 1755. Her father, Mr Duncan Macvicar, was an officer in the army, and, by her mother, she was descended from the old family of Stewart, of Invernahyle, in Argyllshire. Her early infancy was passed at Fort-William; but her father having accompanied his regiment to America, and there become a settler, in the State of New York, at a very tender age she was taken by her mother across the Atlantic, to her new home. Though her third year had not been completed when she arrived in America, she retained a distinct recollection of her landing at Charlestown. By her mother she was taught to read, and a well-informed serjeant made her acquainted with writing. Her precocity for learning was remarkable. Ere she had reached her sixth year, she had made herself familiar with the Old Testament, and could speak the Dutch language, which she had learned from a family of Dutch settlers. The love of poetry and patriotism was simultaneously evinced. At this early period, she read Milton's Paradise Lost with attention, and even appreciation; and glowed with the enthusiastic ardour of a young heroine over the adventures of Wallace' detailed in the metrical history of Henry, the Minstrel. Her juvenile talent attracted the notice of the more intelligent settlers in the State, and gained her the friendship of the distinguished Madame Schuyler, whose virtues she afterwards depicted in her Memoirs of an American Lady.

In 1768, along with his wife and daughter, Mr Macvicar returned to Scotland, his health having suffered by his residence in America; and, during the three following summers, his daughter found means of gratifying her love of song, on the banks of the Cart, near Glasgow. The family residence was now removed to Fort Augustus, where Mr Macvicar had received the appointment of barrack-master. The chaplain of the fort was the Rev. James Grant, a young clergyman, related to several of the more respectable families in the district, who was afterwards appointed minister of the parish of Laggan, in Inverness-shire. At Fort-Augustus, he had recommended himself to the affections of Miss Macvicar, by his elegant tastes and accomplished manners, and he now became the successful suitor for her hand. They were married in 1779, and Mrs Grant, to approve herself a useful helpmate to her husband, began assiduously to acquaint herself with the manners and habits of the humbler classes of the people. The inquiries instituted at this period were turned to an account more extensive than originally contemplated. Mr Grant, who was constitutionally delicate, died in 1801, leaving his widow and eight surviving children without any means of support, his worldly circumstances being considerably embarrassed.

On a small farm which she had rented, in the vicinity of her late husband's parish, Mrs Grant resided immediately subsequent to his decease; but the profits of the lease were evidently inadequate for the comfortable maintenance of the family. Among the circle of her friends she was known as a writer of verses; in her ninth year, she had essayed an imitation of Milton, and she had written poetry, or at least verses, on the banks of the Cart and at Fort-Augustus. To aid in supporting her family, she was strongly advised to collect her pieces into a volume; and, to encourage her in acting upon this recommendation, no fewer than three thousand subscribers were procured for the work by her friends. The celebrated Duchess of Gordon proved an especial promoter of the cause. In 1803, a volume of poems appeared from her pen, which, though displaying no high powers, was favourably received, and had the double advantage of making her known, and of materially aiding her finances. From the profits, she made settlement of her late husband's liabilities; and now perceiving a likelihood of being able to support her family by her literary exertions, she abandoned the lease of her farm. She took up her residence near the town of Stirling, residing in the mansion of Gartur, in that neighbourhood. In 1806, she again appeared before the public as an author, by publishing a selection of her correspondence with her friends, in three duodecimo volumes, under the designation of Letters from the Mountains. This work passed through several editions. In 1808, Mrs Grant published the life of her early friend, Madame Schuyler, under the designation of Memoirs of an American Lady, in two volumes.

From the rural retirement of Gartur, she soon removed to the town of Stirling; but in 1810, as her circumstances became more prosperous, she took up her permanent abode in Edinburgh. Some distinguished literary characters of the Scottish capital now resorted to her society. She was visited by Sir Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, James Hogg, and others, attracted by the vivacity of her conversation. The Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland appeared in 1811, in two volumes; in 1814, she published a metrical work, in two parts, entitled Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen; and, in the year following, she produced her Popular Models and Impressive Warnings for the Sons and Daughters of Industry.

In 1825, Mrs Grant received a civil-list pension of 50 a-year, in consideration of her literary talents, which, with the profits of her works and the legacies of several deceased friends, rendered the latter period of her life sufficiently comfortable in respect of pecuniary means. She died on the 7th of November 1838, in the eighty-fourth year of her age, and retaining her faculties to the last. A collection of her correspondence was published in 1844, in three volumes octavo, edited by her only surviving son, John P. Grant, Esq.

As a writer, Mrs Grant occupies a respectable place. She had the happy art of turning her every-day observation, as well as the fruits of her research, to the best account. Her letters, which she published at the commencement of her literary career, as well as those which appeared posthumously, are favourable specimens of that species of composition. As a poet, she attained to no eminence. The Highlanders, her longest and most ambitious poetical effort, exhibits some glowing descriptions of mountain scenery, and the stern though simple manners of the Gael. Of a few songs which proceed from her pen, that commencing, "Oh, where, tell me where?" written on the occasion of the Marquis of Huntly's departure for Holland with his regiment, in 1799, has only become generally known. It has been parodied in a song, by an unknown author, entitled The Blue Bells of Scotland, which has obtained a wider range of popularity.