1839 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Grant

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 11 (January 1839) 97-100.



Nov. 7. At Edinburgh, in the 84th year of her age, Mrs. Anne Grant, widow of the Rev. James Grant, Minister of Laggan, Invernesshire.

Mrs. Grant's life was, in an eminent degree, eventful. She was born at Glasgow in the year 1755. Her father, Mr. M'Vicar, was an officer in the British army, and on her mother's side he was descended from the ancient family of Stewart of Invernahyle, in Argyllshire. Shortly after her birth, her father accompanied his regiment to America, under the auspices of the Earl of Eglinton, with the intention of settling there, if he should find sufficient inducement for doing so. His wife and infant daughter soon after joined him. They landed at Charleston, and though the child was then scarcely three years of age, 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 slit was well acquainted. About the same age she also learned 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. Soon after, the serjeant of a Scottish regiment gave her the only lessons in penmanship she ever received; and observing her love of reading, he presented her with a copy of Blind Harry's "Wallace," which, by his assistance, she was enabled to decypher so fully as not only to understand the dialect in which the book was written, but also to admire the heroism of Wallace and his compatriots, and to glow with that enthusiasm for Scotland, which, as she herself expressed, ever after remained with her, as a principle of life. Her fondness for reading was universally observed, and fortunately 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 care, and which she afterwards found to be an inestimable treasure. To the diligent study of this book Mrs. Grant herself ascribed the formation of her character and taste, observing that whatever she had of elevation of spirit, expansion of mind, or taste 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 soon 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, falling into bad health, he was advised to leave America, which he did very hurriedly, and without having got his property disposed of. He returned with his wife and daughter to Scotland about the year 1768, and a few years afterwards he was appointed Barrack-Master of Fort-Augustus. Soon after this the Revolutionary war broke out in America, and before his landed property there could be disposed of, it was confiscated, and thus the chief means to which the family had to look for their support were cut off.

While her father was Barrack-Master at Fort-Augustus, the office of chaplain to the Fort was filled by the Rev. James Grant, a young clergyman of accomplished mind and manners, and connected with some of the most respectable families in the neighbourhood. Mr. Grant was soon afterwards appointed minister of the parish of Laggan, in Invernesshire, and in the year 1779 he was united in marriage to the subject of this notice. Of this marriage twelve children were born, four of whom died in comparatively early years, and soon afterwards Mr. Grant himself was cut off, in 1801, leaving his widow with a family of eight surviving children.

When Mrs. Grant went to Laggan, she was informed that, not being a Highlander, nor acquainted with the Gaelic language, she might not be very acceptable to the people. But she had a pride and pleasure in surmounting difficulties; and, with this view, she set herself to learn the customs, and the language, of the people among whom she was to reside, and she soon had the pleasure and happiness of finding that, among all classes of the parishioners, she was received and treated with kindness. Indeed, her unvarying attention to all of them, and especially to the poor, soon secured to her as high a place in their affections, as if she had been a native of the district. The far-famed Highland hospitality was but too well known and practised by Mr. and Mrs. Grant, insomuch, that it was matter of great surprise to her friends, and even to Mrs. Grant herself, when she afterwards began to reflect upon it, how, with their large family, and their comparatively slender means, it was possible to do so much as they did in this way. But on Mr. Grant's death it was found that debt, to a small amount, remained undischarged. How this was to be met, and how Mrs. Grant was to provide for the education and support of her eight fatherless children, were matters, which, it is believed, occasioned more uneasiness to Mrs. Grant's friends than they ever did to herself. She had a firm reliance on the tender mercy of the Father of the fatherless, and committing herself and her young children to His gracious care, she resolved to exert her best energies in their behalf. And her exertions were not unavailing. For some time, she took the charge of a small farm in the neighbourhood of Laggan; but afterwards she found it necessary, in 1803, 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.

As a relief from severer and more anxious duties, Mrs. Grant had always found delight in the pursuits of literature, and having early shown a taste for poetry, she was occasionally accustomed, for the entertainment of her friends, to write verses; and she also, by way of relaxation, carried on an extensive correspondence with some of the friends of her youth. Of her poems, which were generally written with much haste, and on the spur of the moment, her friends formed a much higher opinion than she herself ever did. She generally gave them away, when they were finished, without retaining any copy. It occurred to some of those friends that a volume of her poems might be published with advantage; and, before she was well aware of their kind intentions, proposals were dispersed all over Scotland for publishing such a volume by subscription. 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 had been procured by her influential friends. The late celebrated Duchess of Gordon took a lively interest in this publication; and Mrs. Grant was, in this way, almost forced before the public. The poems were well received on their appearance in 1803; and though the Edinburgh Reviewers, who spoke disparagingly of the poetic genius of Byron and of Grahame, would not allow much merit to her verses, (and they could scarcely allow less than she did herself,) they were 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 all the debts which had hitherto pressed upon her, and which had been contracted during her married life. But she was soon involved in another difficulty, which called her to England, arising from the dangerous illness of her eldest daughter, who being threatened with a consumptive illness, had gone to Bristol for the benefit of her health. The recovery of this daughter was attended with great expense; and soon after, Mrs. Grant had to provide for the outfit of one of her sons who had got an appointment to India, through the influence of her friend, Mr. Charles Grant, then Chairman of the India House. To provide for these expenses, her friends suggested the propriety of publishing some of her letters. These letters had not been written with the slightest view to publication; and accordingly they contained many private allusions, and much harmless badinage, which, however attractive in the connection in which they occurred, were quite unsuited for the public eye. It was thought, however, that, even after suppressing all these passages, the letters still contained so much artless description, and such graphic delineations of scenery and of character, as would be very interesting to the public. Mrs. Grant, who was always ready to defer to the opinions of her friends, consented, with some reluctance, to their publication: and this gave rise to the well-known "Letters from the Mountains," which appeared in 1806. They went through several editions, and soon raised Mrs. Grant into much deserved popularity, and procured for her the patronage and friendship of many influential individuals, and particularly of the late Bishop Porteus, Sir Walter Farquhar, Sir William Grant, Master of the Rolls, and many other eminent persons.

In the year 1810, Mrs. Grant removed from Stirling to Edinburgh, where she resided during the remainder of her life. Here it was her misfortune to lose successively all her remaining children, with the exception of her youngest son, who still survives. The submission with which she bowed to the will of Providence, under these heavy bereavements, excited the admiration of her sympathising friends.

The only other works of any magnitude which Mrs. Grant prepared for the press, were her "Memoirs of an American Lady," already referred to, and her "Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland" both of which were favourably received. The former work has been greatly esteemed both in this country and in America, and contains much vigorous and powerful writing, with sketches of Transatlantic scenery and habits, during a primitive period, which the Quarterly Reviewers have characterised as "a picture of colonial manners, just in their happiest age, given with a truth and feeling that cannot be too highly estimated." Indeed, her description of the breaking up of the ice on the Hudson river is so admirable — the materials are so skilfully put together — and the impression made is so vivid, that Mr. Southey is reported to have pronounced the whole picture as "quite Homeric."

But, perhaps, the most just and eloquent account which can be given of Mrs. Grant's writings is that which Sir Walter Scott appended to an application, which, under the superintendence of her friends, was made, in 1825, to his late Majesty George the Fourth, or a pension to Mrs. Grant, add which bears the signature, not only of Sir Walter himself, but also of Lord Jeffrey, Mr. Mackenzie (the Man of Feeling), Sir William Arbuthnot, Sir Robert Liston, and Principal Baird, who all took great interest in this application. In the document now referred to it is said, "that the character and talents of Mrs. Grant have long rendered her, not only a useful and estimable member of society, but one eminent for the services which she has rendered to the cause of religion, morality, knowledge, and taste. Her literary works, although composed amidst misfortune and privation, are written at once with simplicity and force; and uniformly bear the stamp of a virtuous and courageous mind, recommending to the reader that patience and fortitude, which the writer herself practised in such an eminent degree. Her writings, deservedly popular in her own country, derive their success from the happy manner in which, addressing themselves to the national pride of the Scottish people, they breathe a spirit, at once of patriotism, and of that candour which renders patriotism unselfish and liberal. We have no hesitation in attesting our belief that Mrs. Grant's writings have produced a strong and salutary effect upon her countrymen, who not only found recorded in them much of national history and antiquities, which would otherwise have been forgotten, but found, them combined with the soundest and the best lessons of virtue and morality. We need scarcely add that Mrs. Grant's character in private society has been equally high and exemplary; and it would be most painful to us to think that the declining age of this excellent person, remarkable alike for her virtues and her talents, should, after such meritorious exertions to maintain her independence, and after so long a train of family misfortunes, have the bitterness of these privations aggravated by precarious and dependent circumstances."

It is gratifying to state that this application was completely successful, and that 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 by deceased friends which subsequently arose, rendered her latter years quite easy and independent.

Mrs. Grant's conversational powers were, perhaps, still more attractive than her writings. Her information on every subject, combined with her uniform cheerfulness and equanimity, made her society very delightful. There was a dignity and sedateness, united with considerable sprightliness and vivacity, in her conversation, which rendered it highly interesting; and withal, it was so unaffected and natural, and seemed to emanate from her well-stored mind with so little effort, that some of her most profound and judicious remarks, as well as her liveliest sallies, appeared as if they had been struck off at the moment, without any previous reflection. The native simplicity of her mind, and a entire freedom from attempts at display, soon made the youngest person, with whom she conversed, feel in the presence of a friend; and if there was an quality of her well-balanced mind which stood out more prominently than another, it was that benevolence which made her invariably study the comfort of every person who came in contact with her.

In reference to Mrs. Grant's conversational powers, it maybe mentioned that in a series of Letters, published several years ago, a very competent judge, after observing that, of the "bluestockings, the French art the most tolerable, and the Scotch the most tormenting," adds that their favourite topics at Edinburgh then were, "the resumption of cash payments, the great question of Burgh Reform, and the Corn Bill." He goes onto say that, at an evening party "I was introduced to Mrs. Grant of Laggan, the author of 'Letters from the Mountains,' and other well-known works. Mrs. Grant is really a woman of great talents and acquirements, and might, without offence to any one, talk upon any subject she pleases. But I assure you any person who hopes to meet with a blue-stocking, in the common sense of the term, in this lady, will feel sadly disappointed. She is as plain, modest, and unassuming, as she could have been, had she never stepped from the village whose name she has rendered so celebrated. Instead of entering on any long common-place discussions, either about politics, or political economy, or any other of the hackneyed subjects of tea-table talk in Edinburgh, Mrs. Grant had the good sense to perceive that a stranger, such as I was, came not to hear disquisitions, but to gather useful information, and she therefore directed her conversation entirely to the subject which she herself best understands — which, in all probability, she understands better than any one else — and which was precisely one of the subjects on which I felt the greatest inclination to hear a sensible person speak, namely, the Highlands. She related in a very simple but very graphic manner, a variety of little anecdotes and traits of character, with my recollections of which I shall always have a pleasure in connecting my recollections of herself. The sound and rational enjoyment I derived from my conversation with this excellent person would, indeed, atone for much more than all the blue-stocking sisterhood have ever been able to inflict upon my patience." — Peter's Letters, I. p. 308.

Soon after this was written, and nearly twenty years ago, Mrs. Grant had the misfortune to meet with a severe fall in descending a stair, in consequence of which she was ever after confined almost entirely to the house. This, it was feared, would have proved very injurious to the health of a person of her robust constitution and active habits; but, though she was generally confined to her chair, she still continued to enjoy excellent health, and her usual cheerfulness and equanimity. Though she never made any display of her religious feelings, those who were in the habit of visiting her, frequently found her engaged in the study of the Holy Scriptures, which, indeed, her life and practice evinced she had not studied in vain.

A few weeks before her death, Mrs. Grant caught a bad cold, which assumed the form of influenza, and her constitution gradually yielded to the influence of that debilitating malady.