The parents of MICKLE were respectable in their circumstances, and amiable in their disposition. The Reverend Alexander Mickle, his father, was originally designed for the profession of medicine, and studied at Leyden, under Boerhaave; but, his inclination leading him to be the physician of the soul rather than of the body, he performed the stated divinity exercises at the university of Edinburgh, and, at a more advanced age than usual, he was admitted into the ministry of the church of Scotland. He then removed to London, where he preached in various dissenting meetings, and particularly in that of Dr. Watts; and was employed by the booksellers to correct the translation of Bayle's Dictionary, to which he contributed the greater part of the additional notes. The living of Langholm, in the county of Dumfries, was given to him, in 1716, by George I. and, in 1727, he married Miss Julia Henderson, the first cousin of Sir William Johnstone, Earl of Westerhall, by whom he had ten children. That Mr. and Mrs. Mickle were among "the best of parents," that they stimulated the youthful minds of their offspring to exertion by "praise" and not by "frowns," and that they delighted to unfold to them the beauties of the Muse and of classic lore, is gratefully recorded by their son, in some early and unpolished but warmly affectionate strains.
William Julius Mickle, their fourth son, was born in the parsonage house of Langholm, on the twenty-ninth of September, 1734. The introductory part of his education he received at the grammar school of Langholm, and from the lessons of his father and mother. When he was only seven years of age, Ovid, he has told us, was his favourite author. We also learn from him that, like the Edwin of Beattie, be had no fondness for "childish toys," and that it was his chief pleasure to wander alone on "the banks of the Esk," listening to the murmur of the stream, and the song of the birds, or to sit "on the rocky cliff," and watch "the swelling flood," till his bosom would become filled with "wild grand thoughts," and his "hair would bristle, and his head would thrill." Had not the juvenile poem, in which he mentions these circumstances, been written long previously to the publication of The Minstrel, it might have been supposed that he involuntarily embodied the recollections of his youth in the language of Beattie.
But, though the mind of Mickle early displayed signs of high poetical feeling, he did not early acquire the power of poetical expression. He soon, indeed, attempted to produce poetry, but his first pieces, which were chiefly short devotional poems, or versions of the psalms, are said not to have risen above the level of puerile productions; and, if we may judge from the single specimen which remains, they were, as far as regards the mechanism of verse, less perfect than the compositions of many other boys. The fruit ripened late, but its flavour was, perhaps, the more exquisite.
When Mickle was thirteen, the Faerie Queene accidentally fell into his hands. He perused it with rapture, and it inspired him with an ardent wish, which was at length gratified, to be an imitator of Spenser. Other models of composition likewise contributed, about this period, to the formation of his taste. His father now resided in the Scottish capital, he having been allowed by his parishioners to remove to that city, and act by deputy at Langhholm, as well on account of his age and infirmities as that he might educate his children in a suitable manner. This was a favour which was then sparingly granted, and it may, therefore, be considered as a testimony to the merit of the person by whom it was received. At Edinburgh, young Mickle was admitted into the high school, and there the works of Homer and Virgil became, with those of Spenser, the constant companions of his leisure.
From the delights of study and the Muse, he was, however, soon called off to pursuits of a very different and uncongenial nature. When he had been settled in Edinburgh two years, the father of Mickle was induced to invest the principal part of his fortune in a brewery, which had belonged to a brother-in-law who had recently died. This business he carried on in the name of his eldest son, and William was taken from school to be employed as a clerk. In 1755, Mickle came of age, and the concern was then made over to him, on condition of his granting to his father a share of the profits during life, and paying certain sums to his brothers and sisters in the event of his father's decease. That decease took place in 1758. To the business of a brewer he had a strong aversion, and nothing but filial duty, and a desire to benefit his family, could have prevailed upon him to engage in it.
From the toils and vexations incident to trade, Mickle, perhaps too often, took refuge in literature. He was a frequent visitor of the Advocates' Library, of which the under keeper was Mr. Walter Goodall, the well known vindicator of Mary Queen of Scots. The first published attempts of Mickle were Knowledge, an Ode, and A Night Piece, which appeared without his name, in Donaldson's Collection, about the year 1761; the ode, however, having been written some years before, and printed in one of the newspapers. Lord Hailes pronounced the author to be a poet; and the ode, though inferior to Mickle's subsequent productions, has merit sufficient to justify his lordship's judgment. The Night Piece is an inferior, but not a contemptible poem.
The pen of Mickle was, however, not solely employed upon subjects of amusement. Annet's History of the Man after God's own Heart had recently issued from the press; and Mickle, who was unaffectedly yet zealously pious, undertook the refutation of it. Whether his remarks were given to the world in a separate form, or in some of the periodicals of the day, is not known. They were praised by a friend, as being likely to "be a most acceptable present to that part of the public, who are inclined to piety, but want either time or abilities to examine into the merits of the question;" and this praise it is probable that they deserved.
He had completed a dramatic poem, of considerable length, and, with the laudable purpose of "justify the ways of God to man," had begun a poem on Providence, when his studies were interrupted by the embarrassment of his affairs. Mammon is a jealous power, who will seldom be contented with less than the souls and bodies of his votaries. Mickle, by his love of literature, and the confidingness and generosity of his nature, was unfitted for trade. He had trusted too much to his servants, and had likewise been a joint security, for a large amount, with a printer in Edinburgh, to whom one of his brothers was an apprentice. The printer failed, and Mickle, already sinking, was burdened with the whole weight of responsibility.
In this emergency, his brother judiciously advised him to compound with his creditors, and dispose of the business. But Mickle had one of those sensitive minds which feel a stain like a wound; and in his sight insolvency appeared to be an indelible disgrace. "It would," says he, in one of his letters, "be bringing the horridest stain upon myself, that never can be wiped off. A bankrupt! a name that always carries with it vice and villany, or at the best but carelessness and incapacity — who would not do all he could to shun that?"
That his affairs might be retrieved by strenuous exertion, he fondly hoped; and he also cherished expectations of deriving some assistance from the produce of his literary labours. His friends, for he was warmly loved, participated in the delusion; they lent him their aid, and his creditors were easily induced to take notes at three and four months date. A palliative like this could be productive of little benefit. Time enough was not allowed for him to make such efforts as were requisite to extricate himself. The short moments of respite were, therefore, passed in feverish anxiety, and before they were ended he was "reduced," says his biographer, Mr. Sim, "to a state of melancholy bordering upon despair." It was, however, not a selfish sorrow that overwhelmed him. The fear of having brought distress on his relatives and friends was the chief cause of his mental anguish. To the bitterness of that anguish his private memorandums and his letters bear affecting testimony. In one of the former, he exclaims, "To-morrow evening, perhaps, I shall mourn in a gaol; deserted of Providence, and left a prey to the extreme cruelty of honest thought, and the tenderest feelings for my poor sisters! Will God, indeed, give me up to this hell? Did be give this honesty and warmth of feeling to he my curse and tormentor? and must the murderer, the thief, and fraudulent debtor sleep in peace, undisturbed, but at their own confinement? Well, care and disquietude cannot amend me, even should Providence desert me so far! Often have they incapacitated me to do as I ought. But I argue in vain; composure is not in my own command. I may hide my griefs from company, but I cannot from myself. Yet let me summon all the resolution I am master of, which has already, oftener than once, undismayed, borne the very near prospect of death: let me do all that I yet can, and trust in the Father of Mercies, who easily can deliver me, if he will; — that he will, will yet raise me undishonoured, and innocent of the harm of others, from this business, which he knows his Providence, in a manner, thrust me into; which I have never liked, and which he has not fitted me for. Grant, O Father, that thy providence may yet appear merciful and compassionate to me. Thou, who knowest the infirmities of poor human nature, pity, oh, pity me, and deliver me. Make haste, O God! to save me — else I perish!"
By the intercession of his friends, the creditors of Mickle were once more prevailed on to grant him a delay of a few months. During that period he applied closely to business, and he also finished the poem on which he built his hopes of pecuniary advantage. But all his endeavours were fruitless. Amidst constantly increasing difficulties, and legal annoyance, he struggled on, from the summer of 1762 to the spring of the following year, when insolvency became inevitable, and, with an almost broken heart, he submitted to his fate. Having, with his wonted honesty, distributed his property to the uttermost farthing, he waited for a small remittance from his brother, to enable him to reach the metropolis; but understanding that a creditor intended to arrest him for a trifling sum, he was under the necessity of hastily quitting Edinburgh, walking to Newcastle, and there embarking in a collier for London, in which city he arrived, destitute of money and connexions, and depressed with grief, on the eighth of May.
The poem, to the sale of which he had looked for relief, had now been for several months before the public. It was published by Dodsley, in August, 1762, with the title of Providence, or Arandus and Emilec. The Critical Review mentioned it with warm praise; but the sentence of the Monthly was much less satisfactory to the author. Lord Lyttelton was at this period one of the acknowledged arbiters of literary merit, and to his judgment, therefore, Mickle resolved to appeal. In January 1763, he sent from Edinburgh, under an assumed name, a letter to his lordship, begging his opinion of the poem, asking leave to dedicate to him an improved edition, and requesting that an answer might be left at a coffee house in London.
As a long time elapsed without any notice being taken of his application, it is probable that Mickle drew the same conclusion which was afterwards drawn by the wonderful and ill-starred Chatterton, that "knights and barons live for pleasure and themselves." When, however, he had been two months in the metropolis, and was on the eve of trying his fortune in Jamaica, he was gratified by a letter, in language of kindness, from Lord Lyttlelton, complimenting the genius of Mickle, advising, however, that the poem should not be republished without considerable alterations, offering to read it over with him, that they might discuss its beauties and faults, but declining a dedication, on the ground that, as nobody minded dedications, it was not likely to be of service to the poet. "In the meanwhile," said his lordship, "let me exhort you to endeavour to acquire greater harmony of versification; and to take care that your diction do not loiter into prose, or become hard by new phrases, or words unauthorized by the usage of our good authors."
This advice proves that his lordship had given a careful perusal to the poem of Arandus and Emilec. That poem is now become extremely scarce, but I have read it, and must say that its faults are those which Lord Lyttelton exhorted the author to avoid. It is the production of a man of poetical genius, not yet disciplined in the forms and arts of poetical composition. The language is at times deficient in dignity, and at others in elegance; the style is stiff and confused, and the verse, which is blank verse, moves heavily and harshly. Mickle himself candidly owned, that the work had been "sent to press hurried and unfinished;" and, after having made several fruitless attempts to correct it, he resigned it to oblivion. There are, nevertheless, many passages of superior merit to be found in this forgotten poem.
Encouraged by the friendly tone of Lord Lyttelton, Mickle avowed his name, and transmitted his Pollio for his lordship's opinion. This called forth from the peer a second letter, still more gratifying than the first. An interview at length took place, in February 1764, and Mickle had ample reason to be satisfied with the manner in which he was received. His lordship recommended to him not to be disheartened by the difficulties which beset young authors, but to cultivate his very promising talents, and "with great condescension added, that he would become his schoolmaster."
With respect to acting as Mickle's poetical tutor, the peer faithfully kept his word; they had several meetings for that purpose, and the pupil, though he might sometimes think the taste of his lordship unreasonably fastidious, confessedly derived benefit from his lessons and suggestions.
It was the wish of Mickle to publish, in the spring of 1765, a volume of poems; but his scheme was frustrated by various circumstances, among which was the impossibility of rendering the tale of Arandus and Emilec sufficiently correct. He, therefore, contented himself with sending from the press, and that not till late in the year, the elegy entitled Pollio. Lord Lyttelton's opinion of this elegy may be safely adopted. "It has," said he, "all the merit that just sentiments, fine poetical imagery, elegant diction, and harmonious numbers, can give to so trite a subject. There is also in some stanzas a sublimity of thought and expression which raises it above the ordinary pitch of mere description." Why Mickle did not, as he originally intended, add to the pamphlet his ode on May Day, which is an animated composition, his biographers have not informed us.
He had now been nearly two years in the metropolis, and his scanty subsistence was still derived from such aid as his brothers could afford to him, or ho could procure by writing for periodical works, chiefly for the St. James's and British Magazines. His circumstances imperiously called on him to make some effort; and he hoped, not unnaturally, that Lord Lyttelton had the power and the will to do him service. His hopes, however, did not rise above a clerkship in some of the public offices, or a recommendation to Jamaica, of which colony his lordship's brother was then the governor. It seemed at first as if Mickle's modest wishes would be gratified; and he already exulted in the prospect of being placed at least above the dread of poverty. Lord Lyttelton had an interview with him, in which he expressed a warm desire to serve him, and mentioned several probable modes of doing it; he even wrote to his brother in praise of Mickle; but, either from inability, or some unknown cause, he did nothing more. Towards the close of 1765 their intercourse ceased; but, though Mickle must have been severely pained by the disappointment which he had experienced, and though he was of a sufficiently irritable nature, he never mentioned his lordship in the language of anger or disrespect.
On the failure of his expectations from Lord Lyttelton, he accepted an offer to go to Carolina, in the humble capacity of a merchant's clerk. Fortunately, however, his departure was delayed for some months, in which interval he had an opportunity of obtaining employment more congenial to his taste. He had for some time resided at Oxford; and there, probably through the interest of the Wartons, with whom he was acquainted, he was appointed corrector of the Clarendon press. The salary was not large, but it secured comfort to him, and the place of his residence afforded the facility of procuring the chief delights of his existence, literary converse and the means of study.
The fruits of the leisure and tranquillity which he enjoyed were given to the public in 1767, when he published his longest and best original poem, with the title of The Concubine. It passed through several editions, and, as he at first concealed that he was the author, he had the pleasure of hearing his work attributed to various eminent writers, among whom were the Wartons. In 1777, he changed the title to Syr Martyn, on the ground that the former one "conveyed a very improper idea both of the subject and spirit of the poem." The validity of this objection, and the propriety of the change, are not obvious. The subject is the fatal influence of a lowborn and vulgar-minded mistress on the fortune and character of a man of birth and refined feelings, and thus far the title of The Concubine is descriptive; but the title of Syr Martyn indicates nothing more than the name of the hero of the song.
His early ambition, to become an imitator of Spenser, was now fully gratified; and it must he owned that the disciple is worthy of the master. Few poets have imbibed a larger portion than Mickle of the spirit of Spenser. He displays a vivid fancy, and a power of keen observation; his descriptions are luxuriant and full of glowing beauty; his sentiments are just, aptly introduced, and expressed with elegance; and his versification, always musical, has at times a peculiar and lulling sweetness. Yet Syr Martyn can hardly be numbered among popular works. It is not, like one or two others of the kind, frequently reprinted and reperused. The cause of this must, perhaps, be sought for in the subject, which is the triumph of artifice and meanness, and the consequent slow but continual degradation of a naturally noble mind. To contemplate a humiliating process like this excites in the reader a degree of disgust and of mental pain, to which he does not willingly expose himself. He more than half despises the hero of the tale; he has, therefore, little sympathy for his sufferings; and, though tempted by all the charms of poetry, having once listened to the story, he listens to it no more.
Mickle was now in the enjoyment of fame, and, though not of affluence, yet of au income sufficient to afford to him a decent and independent subsistence. His happiness was, however, interrupted by the illness of his brother Charles, whom he tenderly loved, and who, towards the latter end of 1767, was ordered to the Bristol hot wells, as a last resource, to stop the progress of a consumptive complaint. Mickle cheered his sinking brother by letters, fraught with affection and piety; he contributed from his scanty funds more than half the expense which was incurred; and for a while he fondly cherished a hope that the companion of his youth might still be saved. That hope was blighted; Charles Mickle died early in 1768, and his death was lamented by his brother with the bitterest sorrow.
About this time Harwood published what he called "a liberal translation of the New Testament; among the demerits of which may be reckoned that the majestic simplicity of the great original is destroyed by rhetorical embellishments and affected forms of language." It was vehemently attacked by Mickle, in 1769, in an octavo pamphlet, called A Letter to Mr. Harwood, wherein some of his evasive glosses, false translations, and blundering criticisms, in support of the Arian heresy, contained in his liberal translation of the New Testament, are pointed out and confuted. On this occasion Mickle displayed acuteness and learning, and had the advantage over his opponent; but he sullied his victory by an asperity of manner which can lend no support to a bad or doubtful cause, and which is unworthy of a good one.
This was succeeded, in 1770, by another pamphlet, in defence of religion. It bore the title of Voltaire in the Shades; or, Dialogues on the Deistical Controversy. It was not without considerable merit, but was liable to the same objection as the letter to Harwood. Among the speakers introduced into these dialogues was Hume, whom he abhorred, and once intended to satirize in a poem, to be named The Cave of Deism, of which cave he designed to represent Hume as being either the genius or the keeper. This poem was to have been written in the stanza of Spenser, and was to consist of five or six hundred lines; but it does not appear that any part of it was ever composed.
In 1772, he edited that collection of poems which has the name of Pearch's, and forms a continuation of Dodsley's. He inserted in it two original pieces of his own; the ballad of Hengist and Mey, and the Elegy on Mary Queen of Scots. The latter was written several years before, and is one of the poems which he submitted to the judgment of Lord Lyttelton, who, being prejudiced against Mary, declined to criticise it. In this elegy there is vigour, picturesque imagery, some pathos, and a spirited strain of versification. Its defects are a few careless expressions, and a slight degree of abruptness and obscurity. Hengist and Mey, is a pleasing ballad; but Mickle's best composition of this kind is The Sorceress, produced at a subsequent period, and which has not often been excelled.
Dramatic composition, when successful, being more quickly and largely profitable than any other species of writing, Mickle, soon after his arrival in the metropolis, began a tragedy, the scene of which was laid at the siege of Marseilles, in the reign of Francis the First. It seems to have occupied him for a considerable time, and, when completed, it was transmitted to Garrick, who owned that it possessed poetical beauties, but complained that it wanted stage effect, and was of opinion that, unless it were remodeled, it could not be rendered fit for the theatre. Mickle, in consequence, laboured strenuously to remove its defects, and in doing this he was assisted by the Wartons and the author of Douglas. The piece was brought into a finished state in the spring of 1771. But though he bad almost new written it, and greatly altered the disposition, and though the historian of English poetry wrote to the manager to recommend it, Mickle had the mortification of seeing all his hopes blighted by a second rejection.
This disappointment he did not bear patiently, and his feelings were further irritated by his being told that Garrick had spoken of him with personal disrespect. In his anger he resolved, not merely to publish the drama with a preface, but also to write a new Dunciad, of which the hero should be Garrick. Other occupations, however, and, perhaps, cooler thoughts, induced him to desist from his scheme of vengeance.
The tragedy was afterwards offered to Sheridan and to Harris, and was declined by both, and in the decision of the three managers we may safely acquiesce. The Siege of Marseilles rises little above mediocrity as a poem; it sinks beneath it as a drama. It exercises no influence over the passions or feelings. The plot is unskilfully contrived and conducted; the characters are not drawn with a masterly hand; the language is cold and declamatory; the versification is often stiff and undramatic; and some censure must be passed on the gross violation of historical truth. Passages of great beauty the piece undoubtedly contains: but they are diamond sparks scattered in a heap of common pebbles.
But though, as had already happened to many eminent men, he failed in this attempt, he was crowned with the fullest success in an undertaking of another kind. At an early age he had read with delight the Lusiad of Camoens, in the French version of Castera. England then possessed no translation of the Lusitanian epic, save that which was executed more than a century before, and in a very incompetent manner, by Sir Richard Fanshaw. He resolved, therefore, to naturalize the Lusiad in his own country, and with this view he applied himself to the study of the Portuguese tongue, of which he finally acquired a perfect knowledge. The carrying of his plan into effect was long delayed, but he never lost sight of it. At length, having risen into reputation, he published, in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1771, a version of that part of the fifth book which describes the Spirit of the Cape; and, in the following summer, he put forth the first book, as a further specimen, with proposals for printing the whole by subscription.
So warm and general was the approbation which these specimens received, that he was encouraged to relinquish his situation, as corrector of the Clarendon press, and retire, in the spring of 1772, to an old mansion-house, once the residence of Milton, now inhabited by a farmer, at Forest Hill, near Oxford, where he purposed to devote himself to the task which he had undertaken. He had no other means of subsistence than the casual sums arising from the subscription, but his spirits were good, and he proceeded with energy; for he was cheered in his course by the warm applause of men of taste and genius, and he was also animated by the hope of reward and fame. With such vigour did he persevere, that, towards the close of 1775, the work was published, in a quarto volume, the list of subscribers to which was copious and respectable.
It was, in this instance, the avowed ambition of Mickle to give a poem that might live in the English language, and never did ambition more completely attain its object. The English Lusiad, as, with a nice propriety not immediately obvious, it is frequently called, stands in the very first rank of our poetical translations. It has few equals; no superiors. Whatever of grand or beautiful Mickle found in Camoens, he carefully preserved; what was low he raised, and what was dark he illumined; and when the original wholly failed him, he supplied the deficiency with a lavish hand from his own stores. His enlargements and interpolations, even to the extent of three hundred lines at once, are so numerous that he may almost be considered as the joint author of the poem. It may be denied that he is a faithful translator; it must be owned that he is something of a higher order. In praise of the versification scarcely too much can be said. It is correct, without bearing the marks of labour; and it has a richness and variety too seldom to be met with in heroic rhyme, which, by a perpetual recurrence of the same pauses and cadences, is apt, especially in a long composition, to pall and fatigue the ear.
The dissertations which he prefixed to the poem greatly enhance the worth of the volume, and establish his title to the character of a man of acuteness, reading, and research.
The value of the work was duly appreciated by the public. The first edition consisted of a thousand copies, and its sale was so rapid, that a second, with improvements, became necessary in 1778. The Lusiad was, however, productive of one severe disappointment to its translator. By the dedication he had hoped to obtain a powerful patron, and it had been often hinted to him, that such a compliment would be gratefully repaid by persons who were high in the East India department. But, in an evil hour, he was persuaded, by his friend Commodore Johnstone, to disregard those hints, and to dedicate his labours to the late Duke of Buccleugh. The peer accepted the offer, received a copy of the volume, with a letter from Mickle, took no notice whatever of the translator, and, when questioned on the subject of his unfeeling and unmannerly neglect, he had the rudeness and folly to reply, that the book was still unread, but that he was informed that it had not the merit which had been attributed to it, and therefore nothing could be done.
The cause of this conduct Mickle supposed that be traced to the duke being the friend of Hume, whom the poet detested, and of Adam Smith, some of whose favourite doctrines were controverted in the preliminary essays to the Lusiad. Stung to the quick by the treatment which he had experienced, he planned, and partly wrote, An Heroic Epistle from Mr. Hume in the Shades, to Dr. Adam Smith, in which all the offending parties were severely satirized. At a later period, however, he committed it to the flames; thinking, probably, that his wrongs would be well avenged, by the contempt of posterity for his ill-chosen patron. Mickle judged rightly. Nearly half a century has since elapsed, and only one man has been found hardy enough to panegyrize the peer, and to look upon it as an act of impropriety to "bare the mean heart that lurks beneath a star."
The profits of the Lusiad, which amounted to nearly a thousand pounds, were probably equal to Mickle's expectations; but they were not sufficient to place him in a situation of pecuniary comfort. They were, indeed, already on the eve of being exhausted; for, independent of the sum which had been applied to his own support, and an allowance to his sisters, he had honourably appropriated a share of his gains to the payment of a portion of his debts, an object which at all times, was one of the nearest to his heart. An attempt was now made to obtain for him a pension, hut it proved abortive. Bishop Lowth, who admired him for his abilities, and esteemed him for his religious principles, offered to ordain him, and to provide for him in the church. But, with a delicate and noble feeling, Mickle, in spite of his necessities, declined to avail himself of this offer, in the fear that infidels might impute to an interested motive the Christian zeal which he had displayed. To publish a complete edition of his poems, by subscription, at the price of a guinea, was the resource which he adopted, and he accordingly issued his proposals. "After this labour is finished (said he), if Governor Johnstone cannot or does not, help me to a little independence, I will certainly bid adieu to Europe, to unhappy suspense, and, perhaps, also, to the chagrin of soul which I feel to accompany it." While he was thus engaged, in 1779, he found time to publish a pamphlet in defence of the East India Company, in opposition to the opinions of Dr. Adam Smith.
Fortune at length smiled on him. His relation and friend, Governor Johnstone, was appointed, in the spring of 1779, to the command of the Romney, and commodore of a squadron, and he immediately nominated Mickle as his secretary. The latter, though only ranking as a noncommissioned officer, became thus entitled to a considerable share of prize money. It was no small enhancement of the pleasure arising from his appointment, that the squadron was destined to visit the Portuguese capital, where his fame was widely spread. In November he reached Lisbon, where he found Don John of Braganza, the Duke of Lafoens, waiting on the quay that he might be the first to welcome him to Portugal. By that prince he was introduced to the nobles and literati, who lavished on him their kindness, and, in May, 1780, he was admitted a member of the Royal Academy of Lisbon, on which occasion the duke presented to him his own portrait, as a token of his particular regard.
Mickle was not idle while he remained in Portugal. He collected materials for a history of that country: which, however, he did not live to compose. He also wrote his Almada Hill, an Epistle from Lisbon, but it (lid not come from the press till 1781. It forms a kind of supplement to the Lusiad, and, though not without defects, it is a poem which, both in sentiment and description, does honour to his genius.
In November, 1780, he returned to England, which he quitted no more. His prize money amounted to a large sum, and his resources received another increase by his being made joint agent for the disposal of the prizes. He was now in a situation to complete the payment of his debts; and, with an inexpressible gladness of heart, he hastened to satisfy his creditors. This may, perhaps, be considered as one of the happiest moments of his existence. The burden which, for fifteen years, had weighed down his spirits, was at length thrown off, and he could look upon every human being without the dread of reproach.
In 1782, he published The Prophecy of Queen Emma, an ancient ballad, lately discovered, written by Joannes Turgottus, prior of Durham, in the reign of William Rufus: to which is added by the editor, an account of the discovery, and hints towards a vindication of the authenticity of the poems of Ossian and Rowley. The ballad, which, in reality, is allusive to the contest with America, is a spirited composition, and the prose which accompanies it is a pleasant and well executed burlesque on the mode of argument employed, by Milles and Bryant, in the controversy respecting the poems of the pseudo Rowley.
While he resided at Forest Hill, he contracted an affection for Miss Mary Tomkins, the daughter of the farmer in whose house he dwelt. They were married on the third of June, 1781, and, as the lady brought him an addition to his fortune, he was now possessed of a handsome competence. He sustained, indeed, a considerable loss from the failure of a banker, and some annoyance from a chancery suit, in which he too hastily engaged, but his comforts do not seem to have been materially diminished. By his wife he had one son, who afterwards obtained a place in the India House. The latter years of Mickle were spent in retirement, during which period be corrected his poems for the press, and corresponded with the European Magazine, to which he contributed The Fragments of Leo, and some reviews of books. The song called Eskdale Braes, was the last piece which he produced. It is pretty, but far from equal to his song of "There's nae luck about the house," which, as Burns justly remarks, "is positively the finest love ballad in that style in the Scottish, or perhaps any other language."
Mickle died, in his fifty-fourth year, at Forest Hill, on the 25th of October, 1788, after a brief illness, while was on a visit to his father-in-law. His death was deeply regretted by his friends; and, whether he is contemplated as a poet or a man, his character cannot fail to be respected by every person of taste and genius, and by every lover of virtue and of an honest independence of spirit.