1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 218.



The son of a small farmer residing at Laurence-kirk, in Scotland, Beattie (1735-1803) was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where in 1760 he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic. His principal prose work, The Essay on Truth, made some noise in its day, but is now little esteemed by philosophical critics. George III. conferred on him a pension of 200. Beattie's fame as a poet rests upon The Minstrel, the first part of which was published in 1771. Written in the Spenserian stanza, it gracefully depicts the opening character of Edwin, a young village poet. Some of the stanzas rise to a strain of true lyric grandeur, but the general level of the poem is not above the commonplace. It gave Beattie, however, a high literary reputation. He had already corresponded with Gray. He now became the associate of Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith, and Garrick. In his domestic relations Beattie was unfortunate: his wife becoming insane, and his two sons dying at an early age. Shattered by a train of nervous complaints, the unhappy poet had a stroke of paralysis in 1799, and died in 1803. By nature he had quick and tender sensibilities. A fine landscape or strain of music would affect him even to tears.