This poet was born in Langholm, Dumfriesshire, in 1734. His father was minister of the parish, but removed to Edinburgh, where William, after attending the ugh School, became clerk to a brewery, and ultimately a partner in the concern. In this he failed, however; and in 1764 he repaired to London to prosecute literature. Lord Lyttelton became his patron, although he did him so little service in a secular point of view, that Mickle was fain to accept the situation of corrector to the Clarendon Press at Oxford. Here he published his Pollio, his Concubine, — a poem in the manner of Spenser, very sweetly and musically written, which became popular, — and in 1771 the first canto of a translation of the Lusiad of Camoens. This translation, which he completed in 1775, was published by subscription, and at once increased his fortune and established his fame. He had resigned his office of corrector of the press, and was residing with Mr. Tomkins, a farmer at Foresthill, near Oxford. In 1779, he went out to Portugal as secretary to Commodore Johnstone, and, as the translator of Camoens, was received with much distinction. On his return with a little money, he married Mr. Tomkins' daughter, who had a little more, and took up his permanent residence at Foresthill, where he died of a short illness in 1788.
His translation of the Lusiad is understood to be too free and flowery, and the translator stands in the relation to Camoens which Pope does to Homer. Cumnor Hall has suggested to Scott his brilliant romance of Kenilworth, and is a garland worthy of being bound up in the beautiful locks of Amy Robsart for evermore. "Are ye sure the news is true?" is a song true to the very soul of Scottish and of general nature, and worthy, as Burns says, of "the first poet."