1790 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Andrew Macdonald

Anonymous, "Sketch of the Life of Mr. Andrew Macdonald" Walker's Hibernian Magazine (October 1790) 341-42.



It is a trite observation, that the life of a literary man is so much occupied in study and composition, that it very seldom affords occasion for those incidents which constitute the principal attraction of biography; and this observation was never, perhaps, more applicable than in regard to the object of our present notice. Mr. Andrew Macdonald was a dissenting minister at Glasgow, where his talents had excited considerable reputation in the sphere of his clerical duty, as well as in the regions of literature. His education was as complete as it could be rendered by a Scottish University; and this remark may be said to imply a share of erudition equal to what any other seminary in Europe could confer. The powers of his mind were vast and various, for he was one of the favourites of the Muses, and Philosophy also might be proud to number him among her ablest votaries. In this respect, Mr. Macdonald indeed, may be said to have been a very remarkable character, for though he possessed an active and a fertile imagination, he was a subtle logician, and a profound philosopher. He was at one time employed in culling flowers upon the slopes of Parnassus, and, at another, would penetrate with ease into the intricacies of metaphysics, or minutely explore the abysses of the most abstruse science. Having a genius too active for the calm province of his sacred calling, he devoted himself at length wholly to a life of literature; and as he had written a tragedy, which his friends in Scotland had warmly approved, and which, indeed abounded with poetical beauty, he relinquished his ecclesiastical situation in Glasgow, and set off with his tragedy for the metropolis, animated by the hopes of deriving profit and honour from the representation of this dramatic effort, and of entering a track more calculated to display his abilities. In these hopes, however, notwithstanding the merit of his work, and the superiority of his talents, he was unhappily disappointed; his tragedy entitled VIMONDA, having been represented at the Hay Market, at a time of the year when the labours of the melancholy Muse are found by experience to be least attractive, and when, indeed, the town is deserted by those who are chiefly capable of leading genius to distinction. Thus disappointed, his only resource was to the public prints, in which he found a precarious and trifling recompence; for though he was ready in composition, his merit was of too high a cast to be capable of submitting to such dull drudgery as was requisite for such an employment: yet, even in this unsuitable station, his talents were conspicuously exercised; for, in his "Odes to Actors," and "Monitory Madrigals to Musical Amateurs," he exhibited great powers of poetry and satire, and excited the admiration of all judges of wit, humour, and poetical excellence, as well as considerable alarm and curiosity among the objects against whom these lyric lucubrations were directed. The last scene of his life is painful to enlarge upon; suffice it therefore to say, that reduced by a lingering infirmity, which had weakened his constitution too much to admit any probability of returning health, with a spirit broken by disappointments, that operated forcibly upon a mind conscious of its powers, and characterized by extreme sensibility, and suffering also under the severe pressure of hopeless indigence, he expired, at the age of thirty-three, at his lodgings in Kentish-Town, leaving a wretched, unprotected widow and infant, to lament the loss of a tender father. His remains would have been buried at the expence of the parish, if his widow had not luckily recollected the name of a person in London, who had shewn some zeal in favour of her husband, and who, upon her application to him, offered a subscription for her relief, and was fortunately enabled, by public and private contributions, to provide a decent funeral, and to supply her with a sum more than adequate to the liquidation of her embarrassments, and the conveyance of herself and child to her relations, in a remote part of Scotland. As a further support to her, the works of her ingenious husband are, we understand, to be collected and published for her benefit. It would be distrusting the taste, as well as humanity of the public, to suppose, that this collection will not be successful, as they may indeed rank with the first labours of English poetry, in point of humour, imagination, and originality.