1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Vedder

James Grant Wilson, in Poets and Poetry of Scotland (1877) 2:117-18.



DAVID VEDDER, a lyric poet of considerable originality, was born in the parish of Burness, Orkney, in 1790. Having early lost his parents, he chose, as was natural to an island boy, a sailor's life, and at the age of twelve shipped as a cabin-boy on board a small coasting vessel. He proved an apt scholar in the nautical profession, and when quite young obtained the command of a trading vessel, in which he made several successful voyages. In 1815 he entered the British Revenue service as first officer of an armed cruiser, and at the age of thirty he was promoted to the position of tide-surveyor of customs; successively discharging the duties of his office at the ports of Dundee, Kirkcaldy, Montrose, and Leith. In 1852 he was placed on the retired list, when he took up his residence in Edinburgh, and died there, February 11, 1854, in his sixty-fourth year.

David Vedder had from his early boyhood indulged in the pleasure of rhyming, and before he had attained to manhood his compositions found admission to the columns of the magazines. Encouraged by the favourable reception extended to his poetic efforts, he commenced the career of an author in earnest, and in 1826 issued through Blackwood the publisher The Covenanter's Communion, and other Poems. The volume was so favourably received that the whole impression was soon exhausted. Six years later his Orcadian Sketches appeared, a volume of prose and verse recounting many reminiscences of his early life. This was followed by a memoir of Sir Walter Scott, which was much read and admired, until it was superseded by Lockhart's well-known life of his distinguished father-in-law. In 1839 Vedder edited the Poetical Remains of Robert Fraser, for which he wrote an interesting memoir: and three years later he published a collected edition of his own poetical writings, entitled Poems-Legendary, Lyrical, and Descriptive. In 1848 he supplied the whole of the letterpress for an illustrated volume entitled Lays and Lithographs, published by his son- in-law, Frederick Schenck the lithographer. His last work was a new English version of the old German story of Reynard the Fox, adorned with numerous elegant illustrations. At the time of his decease he was engaged on a beautiful ballad, the subject of which was the persecutions of the Covenanters. His prose productions are good specimens of vigorous composition, and his numerous songs and ballads are characterized by deep pathos and beauty. Many of his productions enjoyed a remarkable degree of popularity, and one of his devotional pieces, The Temple of Nature, was an especial favourite with Thomas Chalmers, who frequently quoted passages from the poem in the course of his theological lectures.

Thomas C. Latto, who was intimate with "the sailor-poet of Orkney," as Hugh Miller called him, informs the Editor that Vedder was the biggest poet in Scotland, or England either, weighing twenty-two stones, but that he was active to the last — a prudent, warm-hearted, God-fearing man. His countenance was weather-beaten and corrugated in rather a singular manner; his aspect somewhat threatening and forbidding, but his first words made you forget all that, for his breast was warm, and his conversation of a kindly and high order. His words had weight, for while he talked he instructed. His voice was deep as a boatswain's, but when he sang some of the sweet songs of Scotland, it was marvellous how softly and gently he could mould it to the tenderest expression or archest humour. He was pretty well grown before he could read or write. At last he mastered the alphabet, and as he used to say, "What more does a man want than that, to make his way in the world?" His widow, "Bonnie Jean," a son in the royal navy, and two amiable daughters, still survive.