William Tennant

Thomas Constable, in Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents (1873) 2:207-09.

WILLIAM TENNANT, the gifted author of Anster Fair, was even more distinguished as a linguist than as a poet, — worthy indeed in that capacity to be classed with John Leyden and Alexander Murray. His intercourse with my father was affectionate and uninterrupted from the time of their introduction in 1812.

Mr. Tennant was naturally much affected on hearing of the death of his earliest patron, Lord Woodhouselee, and expressed his regret in the following interesting letter:—


Anstruther, 16th February 1813.

Dear Sir,—

I have now begun to reprove myself for my silence towards you, though I confess that when hitherto I thought of writing, I was prevented by a diffidence and timidity which to you need no explanation. I cannot say how much I was affected by the news of the death of that honourable man who deigned to correspond with me, and to take an interest in my welfare. The feeling excited within me was not that of disappointment to any selfish hopes I had formed from his patronage — no, that consideration was too cold and illiberal to be once conceived by me. It was an emotion of that genuine sorrow which is excited by the loss of a friend. For though I have never seen his Lordship, though he was separated from me by a dissimilarity of age and condition, yet I sometimes (perhaps too proudly) thought that we possessed a congeniality of mind and humour that brooks no opposition from a difference of age or station in society, but, surmounting such accidental obstacles, is content only with the nearer approaches and intimacies of friendship. Perhaps I am to be blamed for such rashness of expectation, but shall I be excused when I say it was involuntary, that it sprang from the warmth of my mind, and, from its very presumption, gave greater keenness to the sorrow for his loss?

I still remain at Anstruther, doubtful what to betake myself to. I have little literary society here, and for want of a lettered friend or two am obliged to let my impatient fretful spirit gnaw upon itself. I sometimes think of going into a family as tutor, as the situation may be comfortable, and the duties of it will be easy. In such case I should prefer to be in Edinburgh or its neighbourhood. Should you therefore know of any respectable family where you think I may be useful and comfortable, I will thank you to inform me.

I do not know how Anster Fair is coming on with you. I never hear a word about it, and am beginning to be careless of its success. It is perhaps too extravagant a production to take well with the public. — I am, dear Sir, yours very truly,


In 1813 Mr. Tennant was appointed teacher in the parish of Denino, near St. Andrews, whence in 1816 he writes, with reference to his candidature for the office of House-Governor in Heriot's Hospital, — "I hope you will bestir yourself to accomplish my transplantation to Edinburgh, a soil in which learned and literary industry are much more likely to thrive than here in Kingsmuir." The application was unsuccessful, but shortly afterwards he was removed to Lasswade, and thence in 1819 to the Academic Institution of Dollar. In 1835 he at length obtained the object of his life's ambition, in being elected to the Chair of Oriental Languages in St. Mary's College, St. Andrews, which he occupied until his death in 1848.

Besides later editions of his first and greatest work, Constable and Co. published for Mr. Tennant The Thane of Fife in 1822, and in the following year the tragedy of Cardinal Beaton, neither of which attracted equal attention.