1851 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

Robert Pearse Gillies, in Memoirs of a Literary Veteran (1851) 1:117-18.



For the memory of James Beattie, LL.D., Professor of Moral Science at Aberdeen, I have always cherished especial regard and respect. One of his intimate connections, the late John Glennie, A.M., Minister of Dunnottar (son of Lord Byron's tutor Dr. Glennie), was my instructor and friend during many years, and the scenes which the poet has so beautifully described in the Minstrel, form part of the district with which I was familiar from infancy....

Doctor Beattie, as every one knows, was the son of a poor farmer at Lord Gardenstone's village of Laurencekirk. Like almost every other poet of whom I have heard or read, he was in early life surrounded by people whose character and habits were the most opposite possible and uncongenial to his own, and had to struggle, as he best could, in his own lonely way. The light of genius has, for good reasons, been styled by Burns and others, a "light from heaven," seeing that it has made its appearance in situations which, so far as earthly advantages are concerned, are the last wherein one would look for such a gift. In the poor oppressed peasant you may sometimes discover superiority of intellect and a nobility of soul, whilst in his neighbour or landlord — the rich proprietor, who had all the benefits of scholastic education, and might live for the Muses if he chose — you meet, perhaps, only a drunken savage, with little more pretensions to intellectual power than the wildest Hottentot! As to good Lord Gardenstone, he surely was no savage. He was, however, so much astonished at the fact that the farmer's son could write original poetry, that he shrewdly doubted whether it might not be borrowed; so one day, finding the youth writing with a pencil in a lonely glen, he set him a task of Latin verses to be translated into rhyme. This was accomplished, and his lordship doubted no longer; but I have never heard that any result of much advantage to the poet arose from the discovery. Gardenstone, I believe, was remarkably impassive both to poetry and metaphysics, though it is on record that he sometimes quoted "Hudibras" with considerable gusto.