1860 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hector Macneill

Charles MacKay, "Memoir of Hector Macneill" in Burns, Ramsay, and the earlier Poets of Scotland (nd, 1860 ca.) 1:385.



HECTOR MACNEILL, whose fame rests upon a few songs, and not upon his poems, was born at Rosebank, near Roslin, in 1746, the son of respectable parents, by whom he was sent, at the proper age, to the Grammar School of Stirling. Here he formed a strong attachment to his preceptor, the Rev. Dr. David Doig, which lasted till late in life, and which he manifested by the dedication of his poem of "Will and Jean," and by a tribute to his memory after death. At the age of fourteen, having received all the schooling that his parents could afford to give him, he was removed to Bristol to the care of his cousin, a captain of a vessel trading to the West Indies, by whom he was taken a voyage to St. Christopher's. At this place he obtained a situation in a merchant's office, which he did not long retain, — partly, it is alleged, in consequence of some youthful indiscretion that was not to be forgiven by his employers, but more probably because he disliked the drudgery of the desk, and longed for more active or more congenial employment. He remained in the West Indies for upwards of a quarter of a century, under circumstances that have not been very fully explained, though it appears that he was for a considerable period employed as the overseer or manager of a sugar plantation in Jamaica, in which capacity he published a pamphlet on the treatment of the negroes in that island, in which he vindicated the planters from the charges of cruelty and oppression which had been brought against them. His health having failed him, he returned to his native country in 1788, and devoted himself for a while to literary pursuits. In the following year he published in Edinburgh "The Harp; a Legendary Tale," that met with little or no success. For the next eleven years he divided his time between Jamaica and Edinburgh, and published the poems and songs which have given him so respectable a place in Scottish literature, but with no very favourable result upon his worldly fortunes. He found a friend, however, in the person of his former employer, Mr. John Graham, a planter at Three Mile River, in Jamaica, who, at his death, in 1800, left Macneill, then in his fifty-fourth year, an annuity of £100 per annum. Being now in much easier circumstances than he had ever before known, he returned once more to Edinburgh, and increased his income by systematic literary efforts, by the editorship of the Scots' Magazine, and by the production of two or three indifferent novels, which are now forgotten. He died in 1818, having attained the age of seventy-two. His principal title to fame lies in his well-known songs, "Saw ye my wee thing," "My boy Tammie," "Come under my plaidie," and a few others, that share the popularity of those of Robert Burns, and have taken a permanent place in Scottish literature.