Sir William Forbes's long-expected Life of Dr. Beattie has at length appeared in two quarto volumes: and I cannot refrain from indulging myself with a few cursory remarks, and a few extracts, while my heart and my head are warm with the subject. Has it added to our admiration of him as an author and a man? It has done both. There are many circumstances which combine to qualify Sir William, in a very uncommon degree, for the biographer of this great poet and philosopher: their long, intimate, and uninterrupted friendship, their habits of constant correspondence, and their congenial turns of mind, in particular; while the talents, and the character of the survivor, and his very extensive and near acquaintance with the most eminent men in the literary world, give a force and authority to his narration, which few eulogists can confer.
But with due respect to the examples of Mr. Mason, and Mr. Hayley, I confess I am not entirely satisfied with the plan of leaving a man to be principally his own biographer, by means of a series of letters, connected by a few short and occasional narratives. I do not mean indeed to depreciate those of Mr. Hayley, by comparing them with his predecessor's, which always from a boy disgusted me with their stiff and barren frigidity; while those of the former glow with all the warmth of friendship, and congenial poetic feeling: but I allude only to the plan.
There are many points on which there is no doubt that an author can best delineate his own character: but there are others, of which he is totally disqualified to give a fair portrait, and of which, even if he were qualified, it is highly improbable that his Letters should furnish an adequate account.
I trust therefore I may he excused for venturing the opinion which I have long formed, that, though Letters are an excellent, and almost necessary, accompaniment of a Life; and though appropriate extracts from them, and continued references to them may well he introduced in the narrative, yet they should not form the principal part of that narrative, which, as it seems to me, should exhibit one unbroken composition. To leave the generality of readers to collect and combine an entire portrait, or a regular series of events, from the scattered notices of a variety of desultory letters, is to give them credit for a degree of attention, and a power of drawing results, which few will be found to and fewer still have leisure to exercise.
Having thus frankly declared my sentiments, it is almost unnecessary to add, that I prefer the plan adopted by Dr. Currie, in his Life of Burns, to that, which has been chosen by Sir William Forbes for the life of his illustrious friend. In the execution of the mode he has followed, Sir William has discovered a soundness of judgment and taste in his selection, an elegance of language, a purity of sentiment, and an ardour of friendship, which will do him immortal honour. But, as my purpose is not to criticise the biographer, but to make some slight remarks on the poet, I must proceed.
Beattie was born a poet; that is, he was born with those talents and sensibilities, which, with the assistance of the slightest education, are almost certain in due time to vent themselves in poetry. In the first occupation of his manhood, the care of an obscure country school, Sir Wm. Forbes says, "he had a never failing resource in his own mind; in those meditations which he loved to indulge, amidst the beautiful and sublime scenery of that neighbourhood, which furnished him with endless amusement. At a small distance from the place of his residence, a deep and extensive glen, finely cloathed with wood, runs up into the mountains. Thither he frequently repaired; and there several of his earliest pieces were written. From that wild and romantic spot he drew, as from the life, some of his finest descriptions, and most beautiful pictures of nature, in his poetical compositions. He has been heard to say, for instance, that the description of the owl, in his charming poem On Retirement,
Whence the scar'd owl on pinions grey
Breaks from the rustling boughs;
And down the lone vale sails away
To more profound repose;
was drawn after real nature. And the seventeenth stanza of the second Book of The Minstrel, in which he so feelingly describes the spot, of which he most approved, for his place of sepulture, is so very exact a picture of the situation of the churchyard of Lawrencekirk, which stands near to his mother's house, and in which is the school-house where he was daily taught, that he must certainly have had it in his view, at the time he wrote the following beautiful lines.
Let Vanity adorn the marble tomb
With trophies, rhymes, and scutcheons of renown.
In the deep dungeon of some Gothic dome,
Where Night and Desolation ever frown!
Mine be the breezy hill that skirts the down,
Where a green grassy turf is all I crave,
With here and there a violet bestrown,
Fast by a brook, or fountain's murmuring wave;
And many an evening sun shine sweetly on my grave.
"It was his supreme delight to saunter in the fields the livelong night, contemplating the sky, and marking the approach of day; and he used to describe with peculiar animation the soaring of the lark in a summer morning. A beautiful landscape, which he has magnificently described in the twentieth stanza of the first book of The Minstrel, corresponds exactly with what must have presented itself to his poetical imagination, at those occasions, on the approach of the rising sun, as he would view the grandeur of that scene from the hill in the neighbourhood of his native village. The high hill, which rises to the west of Fordoune would, in a misty morning, supply him with one of the images so beautifully described in the twenty-first stanza. And the twentieth stanza of the second book of the Minstrel describes a night-scene unquestionably drawn from nature, in which he probably had in view Homer's sublime description of the Moon, in the eighth book of the Iliad, so admirably translated by Pope, that an eminent critic has not scrupled to declare it to be superior to the original. He used himself to tell, that it was from the top of a high hill in the neighbourhood, that he first beheld the ocean, the sight of which, he declared, made the most lively impression on his mind.
"It is pleasing, I think, to contemplate these his early habits, so congenial to the feelings of a poetical and warm imagination; and therefore, I trust, I shall be forgiven for having dwelt on them so long."
Sir William Forbes need have made no apology for the length of these passages. I would have said "O sic omnia!" but that it would seem to imply some censure; and I well know that all could not be like this. We cannot always be watching the dawn of day "on the misty mountain's top;" nor be constantly wandering "alone and pensive" by the "pale beams" of the "Queen of Night." But it will not he doubted, that in the occupations of "young Edwin" the poet described many of his own early propensities and amusements. I do not agree therefore with an eminent critic [author's note: Dr. Aikin's Letters on English Poetry], who observing that Edwin "is marked from his cradle with those dispositions and propensities, which were to be the foundation of his future destiny," adds, "I believe it would be difficult in real biography to trace any such early indications of a genius exclusively fitted for poetry; nor do I imagine that an exquisite sensibility to the sublime and beautiful of nature is ever to be found in minds, which have not been opened by a degree of culture." The interposition indeed of the word "exclusively" a little qualifies the assertion; but the endowments attributed by the poet to Edwin, though they are not exclusively, are more peculiarly, adapted to poetical eminence.
If this assertion then, be true, that the delineation of the infant Minstrel was essentially that of the author, for which we have the authority of Sir W. Forbes, and even of Beattie himself, there is an end to the denial of particular genius, which Johnson was so fond of urging, and which so many, on his great, but surely far from infallible, judgment, are fond of repealing. Every one possessed of equal fancy and equal sensibility of heart with Beattie, would feel in childhood similar sentiments and similar pleasures; and I think it must not be questioned that the impression of those sentiments and those pleasures would lead a person of equal capacity more peculiarly, not only to the inclination, but, with the aid of a little industry, to the power, of composing poetry.
I assert again therefore that the hand of Nature impressed on Beattie's mind the character of a poet. He afterwards became a philosopher by the effect of accident, and study. All this indeed he appears to me to have confirmed by his own direct declarations.
Hear him in a Letter to Dr. Blacklock, dated 9 Jan. 1769.
****. "Perhaps you are anxious to know what first induced me to write on this subject;" (Truth.) "I will tell you as briefly as I can. In my younger days I read chiefly for the sake of amusement, and I found myself best amused with the classics, and what we call the Belles Lettres. Metaphysics I disliked; mathematics pleased me better; but I found my mind neither improved, nor gratified by that study. When Providence allotted me my present station" (of Professor of Moral Philosophy) "it became incumbent on me to read what had been written on the subject of morals and human nature: the works of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, were celebrated as masterpieces in this way; to them therefore I had recourse. But as I began to study them with great prejudices in their favour, you will readily conceive, how strangely I was surprised to find them, as I thought, replete with absurdities: I pondered these absurdities; I weighed the arguments, with which I was sometimes not a little confounded; and the result was, that I began at last to suspect my own understanding, and to think that I had not capacity for such a study. For I could not conceive it possible that the absurdities of these authors were so great, as they seemed to me to be; otherwise, thought I, the world would never admire them so much. About this time, some excellent antisceptical works made their appearance, particularly Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind. Then it was that I began to have a little more confidence in my own judgment, when I found it confirmed by those, of whose abilities I did not entertain the least distrust. I reviewed my authors again with a very different temper of mind. A very little truth will sometimes enlighten a vast extent of science. I found that the sceptical philosophy was not what the world imagined it to be; but a frivolous, though dangerous, system of verbal subtlety, which it required neither genius, nor learning, nor taste, nor knowledge of mankind, to be able to put together; but only a captious temper, an irreligious spirit, a moderate command of words, and an extraordinary degree of vanity and presumption. You will easily perceive that I am speaking of this philosophy only in its most extravagant state, that is, as it appears in the works of Mr. Hume. The more I study it, the more am I confirmed in this opinion," &c. ****.
"I am convinced that this metaphysical spirit is the bane of true learning, true taste, and true science; that to it we owe all this modern scepticism, and atheism; that it has a bad effect upon the human faculties, and tends not a little to sour the temper, to subvert good principles, and to disqualify men for the business of life. You will now see wherein my views differ from those of other answerers of Mr. Hume. I want to shew the world, that the sceptical philosophy is contradictory to itself, and destructive of genuine philosophy, as well as of religion and virtue; that it is in its own nature so paltry thing, (however it may have been celebrated by some) that to he despised it needs only to be known; that no degree of genius is necessary to qualify a man for making a figure in this pretended science; but rather a certain minuteness and suspiciousness of mind and want of sensibility, the very reverse of true intellectual excellence; that metaphysics cannot possibly do any good, but may do, and actually have done, much harm; that sceptical philosophers, whatever they may pretend, are the corrupters of science, the pests of society, and the enemies of mankind." &c. ****.
In a Letter to Major Mercer, dated 26 Nov. 1769, he says,
***. "I intend to bid adieu to metaphysics, and all your authors of profound speculation; for, of all the trades, to which that multifarious animal, man, can turn himself, I am now disposed to look upon intense study as the idlest, the most unsatisfying, and the most unprofitable. You cannot easily conceive with what greediness I now peruse the Arabian Nights Entertainments, Gulliver's Travels, Robinson Crusoe, &c. I am like a man, who has escaped from the mines, and is now drinking in the fresh air and light, on the top of some of the mountains of Dalecarlia. These books put me in mind of the days of former years, the romantic aera of fifteen, or the still more careless period of nine, or ten, the scenes of which, as they now stand pictured to my fancy, seem to be illuminated with a sort of purple light, formed with the softest, purest gales, and painted with a verdure, to which nothing similar is to be found in the degenerate summers of modern times. Here I would quote the second stanza of Gray's Ode on Eton College, but it would take up too much room, and you certainly have it by heart."
The above extracts discover the origin of Beattie's philosophical works. Those which follow exhibit the first traces of his incomparable poem The Minstrel.
Dr. Beattie to Dr. Blacklock, 22 Sept. 1766.
****. "Not long ago I began a poem in the style and stanza of Spenser, in which I propose to give full scope to my inclination, and be either droll or pathetic, descriptive or sentimental, tender or satirical, as the humour strikes me; for, if I mistake not, the manner, which I have adopted, admits equally of all these kinds of composition. I have written one hundred and fifty lines, and am surprised to find the structure of that complicated stanza so little troublesome. I was always fond of it; for I think it the most harmonious that ever was contrived. It admits of more variety of pauses than either the couplet, or the alternate rhyme; and it concludes with a pomp, and majesty of sound, which, to my ear, is wonderfully delightful. It seems also very well adapted to the genius of our language, which, from its irregularity of inflexion and number of monosyllables, abounds in diversified terminations, and consequently renders our poetry susceptible of an endless variety of legitimate rhymes. But I am so far from intending this performance for the press, that I am morally certain it never will be finished. I shall add a stanza now and then, when I am at leisure; and when I have no humour for any other amusement: but I am resolved to write no more poetry with a view to publication, till I see some dawnings of a poetical taste among the generality of readers; of which, however, there is not at present any thing like an appearance."
To the same, 20 May, 1767.
"My performance in Spenser's stanza has not advanced a single line, these many months. It is called The Minstrel. The subject was suggested by a dissertation on the old minstrels, which is prefixed to a collection of ballads lately published by Dodsley in three volumes. I propose to give an account of the birth, education, and adventures of one of those bards; in which I shall have full scope for description, sentiment, satire, and even a certain species of humour and of pathos, which, in the opinion of m great master, are by no means inconsistent, as is evident from his works. My hero is to be born in the south of Scotland, which you know was the native land of the English Minstrels; I mean of those Minstrels, who travelled into England; and supported themselves there by singing their ballads to the harp. His father is a shepherd. The son will have a natural taste for music and the beauties of nature; which, however, languishes for want of culture, till in due time he meets with a hermit, who gives him some instruction; but endeavours to check his genius for poetry and adventures, by representing the happiness of obscurity and solitude, and the bad reception which poetry has met with in almost every age. The poor swain acquiesces in this advice, and resolves to follow his father's employment, when on a sudden the country is invaded by Danes, or English Borderers, (I know not which,) and he is stripped of all his little fortune, and obliged by necessity to commence Minstrel. This is all that I have as yet concerted of the plan. I have written 150 lines; but my hero is not yet born, though now in a fair way of being so; for his parents are described, and married. I know not whether I shall ever proceed any farther; however, I am not dissatisfied with what I have written."
In the course of two more years Beattie finished the first canto of this enchanting poem; and published it early in the spring of 1771. It instantly attracted the public attention, and raised the author into the first ranks of fame. Gray praised it with a warm and disinterested energy; and it seemed to have electrified Lord Lyttelton, who spoke of it in a much higher tone of eloquence, than he was accustomed to reach. I cannot resist transcribing the short but beautiful letter here.
Lord Lyttelton to Mrs. Montagu, 8 March, 1771.
"I read your Minstrel last night, with as much rapture as poetry, in her noblest sweetest charms, ever raised in my soul. It seemed to me, that my once most beloved minstrel, Thomson, was come down from heaven, refined by the converse of purer spirits than those he lived with here, to let me hear him sing again the beauties of nature, and the finest feelings of virtue, not with human, but with angelic strains! I beg you to express my gratitude to the poet for the pleasure he has given me. Your eloquence alone can do justice to my sense of his admirable genius, and the excellent use he makes of it. Would it were in my power to do him any service!"
In a letter dated 6 July, 1772, the author declares that the second canto had been nearly finished these two years: but it was not published till 1774, accompanied by a new edition of the first canto.
In the mean time Beattie's domestic afflictions increased with his fame; and embittered the exquisite satisfaction, which he would otherwise have derived from the flattering station he now held in society. To these I think we must attribute the change of sentiments on a very important topic, which the latter part of the following most eloquent letter seems to discover.
Dr. Beattie to Mrs. Montagu, 26 July, 1773.
"Your most obliging and most excellent letter of the 14th current, bore the impression of Socrates on the outside. He, if I mistake not, piqued himself on having constantly resided in Athens, and used to say, that he found no instruction in stones or trees; but you, Madam, better skilled in the human heart, and more thoroughly acquainted with all the sublimest affections, do justly consider that quiet which the country affords, and those soothing and elevating sentiments, which 'rural sights and rural sounds' so powerfully inspire, as necessary to purify the soul, and raise it to the contemplation of the first and greatest good: Yet, I think, you rightly determine, that absolute solitude is not good for us. The social affections must be cherished, if we would keep both mind and body in good health. The virtues are all so nearly allied, and sympathise so strongly with each other, that if one is borne down, all the rest feel it, and have a tendency to pine away. The more we love one another, the more we shall love our Maker: and if we fail in duty to our common parent, our brethren of mankind will soon discover that we fail in duty to them also.
"In my younger days I was much attached to solitude, and could have envied even 'The Shepherd of the Hebride isles, placed far amid the melancholy main.' I wrote Odes to Retirement, and wished to be conducted to its deepest groves, remote from every rude sound, and from every vagrant foot. In a word, I thought the most profound solitude the best. But I have now changed my mind. Those solemn and incessant energies of imagination, which naturally take place in such a state, are fatal to the health and spirits, and tend to make us more and more unfit for the business of life: the soul deprived of those ventilations of passion, which arise from social intercourse, is reduced to a state of stagnation; and if she is not of a very pure consistence indeed, will be apt to breed within herself many 'monstrous and many prodigious things,' of which she will find it no easy matter to rid herself, even when she is become sensible of their noxious nature."
I have no room here to enter into a disquisition upon the very interesting subject of solitude. The objections to it thus urged by Beattie deserve, no doubt, very serious consideration. But they do not convince me, expressed, as they are, in general terms. Nay, I confess I could have wished they had never appeared under this poet's authority; because they take something from the pleasure we feel in some of the finest passages of his best poems. For my part, it appears to me, that as long as God endows individuals with more energetic capacities, with more tender sensibilities, with higher hopes, and sublimer sentiments than the mass of mankind, so long must solitude be the proper sphere of their human existence. If it do tend to "make its unfit for the business of life," it fits us for something much better: for that intellectual eminence and purity of heart, which exalt our nature, and almost lift us into an higher order of beings; for those mental exertions, by which the heads and hearts of thousands have, century after century, been ameliorated, and drawn away from the low and selfish ambitions of the world; and by which nations have sometimes been electrified from their slumbers into efforts that have saved them from impending destruction! I am now older than Dr. Beattie was, when he expressed these sentiments, and I do not find my love of solitude diminish. I discover no "stagnation of the soul;" the day is not long enough for the enjoyment of my hooks, and those pure and innocent wanderings of the fancy, in which I delight; and in the deep woods and silent vallies, I find "no monsters" of horror, which, alas I too frequently meet in society; but on the contrary,
Resentment sinks; Disgust within me dies,
And Charity, and meek Forgiveness rise,
And melt my soul, and overflow mine eyes.
Although Dr. Beattie experienced the happiness, as a philosopher, to have almost all the eminent divines on his side, such as Porteus, Burd, Markham, &c. yet it seems he had not the unanimous concurrence of the Bench of Bishops. For in a letter to Mrs. Montagu, of 13 March, 1774, he says, "Pray, Madam, be so good as to favour me with some account of the Bishop of Carlisle, Dr. Law, if he happens to be of your acquaintance. His Lordship, in a book lately published, has been pleased to attack me in a strange manner, though in few words, and very superciliously seems to condemn my whole book; because I believe 'in the identity of the human soul, and that there are innate powers, and implanted instincts in our nature.' He hints, too, at my being a native of Scotland, and imputes my unnatural way of reasoning, (for so he characterizes it) to my ignorance of what has been written on the other side of the question, by some late authors. It would be a very easy matter for me to return such an answer to his lordship, as would satisfy the world, that he has been rather hasty in signing my condemnation; but perhaps it will be better to take no notice of it: I shall be determined by your advice. His doctrine is, that the human soul forfeited its immortality by the fall, but regained it in consequence of the merits of Jesus Christ; and that it cannot exist without the body; and must, therefore, in the interval between death and the resurrection, remain in a state of non-existence. The theory is not a new one; but his Lordship seems to be one of the most sanguine of its adherents. Some of the objections, drawn from the, scripture, he gets the better of by a mode of criticism, which, I humbly think, would not be admitted in a commentary upon any other book."
In 1776 Dr. Beattie published his Essays on Poetry and Music; Laughter and Ludicrous Composition: and on the Utility of Classical Learning. "My principal purpose," says he, "was to make my subject plain and entertaining; and, as often as I could, the vehicle of moral instruction; a purpose, to which every part of the philosophy of the human mind, and indeed of science in general, may, and ought, in my opinion, to be made in some degree subservient."
I will now add a few, and a very few, miscellaneous extracts; for I fear this article already grows too long.
1785. "Johnson's harsh and foolish censure of Mrs. Montagu's book does not surprise me; for I have heard him speak contemptuously of it. It is, for all that, one of the best, most original, and most elegant pieces of criticism in our language, or any other. Johnson had many of the talents of a critic; but his want of temper, his violent prejudices, and something, I am afraid, of an envious turn of mind, made him often a very unfair one. Mrs. Montagu was very kind to him; but Mrs. Montagu has more wit than any body; and Johnson could not bear that any person should be thought to have wit but himself. Even Lord Chesterfield, and, what is more strange, even Mr. Burke he would not allow to have wit! He preferred Smollet to Fielding. He would not grant that Armstrong's poem on Health, or the tragedy of Douglas, had any merit. He told me that he never read Milton through, till he was obliged to do it, in order to gather words for his Dictionary. He spoke very peevishly of the Masque of Comus; and when I urged that there was a great deal of exquisite poetry in it; "Yes," said he, "but it is like gold hid under a rock;" to which I made no reply; for indeed I did not well understand it. Pray, did you ever see Mr. Potter's Remarks on Johnson's Lives of the Poets? it is very well worth reading."
1788. "What Mrs. Piozzi says of Goldsmith is perfectly true. He was a poor fretful creature, eaten up with affectation and envy. He was the only person I ever knew, who acknowledged himself to be envious. In Johnson's presence he was quiet enough; but in his absence, expressed great uneasiness in hearing him praised. He envied even the dead; he could not bear that Shakspeare should be so much admired as he is. There might, however, be something like magnanimity in envying Shakspeare and Dr. Johnson; as in Julius Caesar's weeping to think, that at an age at which he had done so little, Alexander should have done so much. But surely Goldsmith had no occasion to envy me; which, however, he certainly did; for he owned, it, (though, when we met, he was always very civil;) and I received undoubted information, that he seldom missed an opportunity of speaking ill of me behind my back. Goldsmith's common conversation was a strange mixture of absurdity and silliness; of silliness so great as to make me think sometimes that he affected it. Yet he was a great genius of no mean rank: somebody, who knew him well, called him an inspired idiot. His ballad of Edwin and Angelina, is exceedingly beautiful and in his two other poems, though there be great inequalities, there is pathos, energy, and even sublimity."
In 1790 Beattie lost his eldest son; and in 1796, his remaining son. These successive shocks were too much for a tender heart, already half broken by the sorrow for their mother's incurable malady. From the last event he at times lost his senses. "A deep gloom," says he, "hangs upon me, and disables all my faculties; and thoughts so strange sometimes occur to me, as to make me 'fear that I am not,' as Lear says, 'in my perfect mind.'"
Yet, on 15th May, 1797, he wrote a letter to Mr. Frazer Tytler, somewhat in his former manner; from whence the following extract is derived.
"There is one translation, which I greatly admire, but am sure you never saw, as you have not mentioned it: the book is indeed very rare; I obtained it with difficulty by the friendship of Tom Davies, an old English bookseller; I mean, Dobson's Paradisus Amissus; my son studied, and I believe, read every line of it. It is more true to the original, both in sense and spirit, than any other poetical version of length, that I have seen. The author must have had an amazing command of Latin phraseology, and a very nice ear in harmony.
"Being curious to know some particulars of Dobson, I inquired of him at Johnson, who owned he had known him, but did not seem inclined to speak on the subject. But Johnson hated Milton from his heart; and he wished to be himself considered as a good Latin poet; which however, he never was, as may be seen by his translation of Pope's Messiah. All that I could ever hear of Dobson's private life was, that in his old age he was given to drinking. My edition of his book is dated 1750. It is dedicated to Mr. Benson, who was a famous admirer of Milton; and from the dedication it would seem to have been written at his desire, and under his patronage."
"I am acquainted with many parts of your excursion through the north of England, and very glad that you had my old friend Mr. Gray's Letters with you, which are indeed so well written, that I have no scruple to pronounce them the best letters, that have been printed in our language. Lady Mary Montagu's Letters are not without merit, but are too artificial and affected to be confided in as true; and Lord Chesterfield's have much greater faults; indeed, some of the greatest that letters can have: but Gray's letters are always sensible, and of classical conciseness and perspicuity. They very much resemble what his conversation was. He had none of the airs of either a scholar or a poet; and though on those, and all other subjects, he spoke to me with the utmost freedom, and without any reserve, he was, in general company, much more silent than one could have wished."
Dr. Beattie died 8 Aug. 1803, aet. 68.
His character, has been as justly and eloquently, as briefly, sketched by Mrs. Montagu, in a letter to himself. "We considered you," says she, "as a poet, with admiration; as a philosopher, with respect; as a Christian, with veneration; and as a friend, with affection." He clearly directed his ambition to excellence, rather as a philosopher, than as a poet; and yet it is apparent, that these studies were not congenial to his natural taste; but that they fatigued and oppressed him. In these paths he seems to have arrived at the utmost height, of which his powers ere capable; but this is far from being the case with the poetry he has left. Beautiful as is his Minstrel, yet, had he concluded it on the plan he originally intended, which I must venture, in opposition to Dr. Aikin, to say, was easily within the scope of his genius, he would have contributed very materially both to its variety and its interest. I will add that the innocent and exalted occupation might have soothed his broken spirits, and gilded the clouds of his latter days.
It is not easy to guess, when we consider the opinions which this excellent author himself promulgated in his philosophical works, on what ground he depreciated the dignity, or the use, of his capacity as a poet. But it is certain that, at least for the last thirty years of his life, he did slight and neglect it most unjustly. There is no adequate reason for considering it inconsistent with his professional functions, which his exemplary virtue induced him to discharge with uncommon industry and attention. It would, on the contrary, have relieved the toil of them, by a delightful diversity of ideas. But it may be suspected, that there was a certain timidity this good man's mind, not entirely consonant with the richness of his endowments. In the cause of religion indeed, his piety made him bold; but he was otherwise a little too sensible of popular prejudices.
The goodness of the cause, and the particular occasion, has added an accidental value to his great philosophical work, 'The Essay on Truth. But I believe I am not singular in asserting, that his genius is least capable of rivalry in that Minstrel, on which he bestowed so little comparative attention: while it is apparent that, even there, his severer studies occasionally encumbered and depressed his fancy. Burns knew better the strength, which Nature had bestowed on him; and giving full scope to succeeded accordingly.
The Letters, which are now published, exhibit Dr. Beattie's moral character in the most amiable light. Their style unites ease and elegance; and they prove the correctness of his opinions, the nicety of his taste, and the soundness of his judgment. They discover, above all, the tenderness of his heart, and the fervor of his religion. But the frankness of truth demands from me the confession, that they do not appear to me to possess those characteristic excellencies, as literary compositions, which enchant us in the letters of Burns and Cowper; and which none but themselves could have written. He has nothing like the touching simplicity of the poet of Weston; nor any thing like the ardent eloquence of the Bard of Airshire. He scarce ever indulges in sallies congenial with the rich warblings, which used to flow so copiously from the harp of the inspired Edwin.
I would now willingly enter into the peculiar traits both of the poetical and prose works, on which Beattie's fame was founded; but this article is already too long; (I hope my readers will not think it out of place;) and I have now neither room nor leisure for more, except to say, that as a poet he possessed an originality, and an excellence, to which I doubt whether justice has yet been done.
July 2, 1806.