1830 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Robert Anderson

P. Maxwell, Reminiscences of Robert Anderson" Edinburgh Literary Journal (13 March 1830) 164-65.



SIR,

My excellent friend, Robert Anderson, M.D. died on the 20th of February, at a quarter before four o'clock in the afternoon, having attained to the venerable age of eighty years. Few men will be more regretted among us. His amiable and gentlemanlike manners, his prodigious store of information, and the heartfelt willingness with which he imparted it, will ever be remembered by those who knew his worth, and enjoyed the pleasure of his conversation. He has been long known to the world as an author. His judgment and taste are happily displayed in his edition of the British Poets, a work which has now become scarce. He was more or less connected with various other publications; and among others I may mention the Bee, concerning which, and its excellent editor, the amiable Dr Blacklock thus speaks, in a poetical epistle addressed to Burns:

Anon to my business I wish to proceed,
Dr. Anderson guides, and provokes me to speed,
A man of integrity, genius, and worth,
Who soon a performance intends to set forth;
A work, miscellaneous, extensive, and free,
Which will weekly appear by the name of the Bee:
Of this from himself I enclose you a plan,
And hope you will give what assistance you can.

Literature owes to Dr. Anderson much more than his own actual labours. His acute understanding first discovered and encouraged the genius of the author of The Pleasures of Hope, and Mr. Campbell, with great Propriety, inscribed that splendid production to his friend. The ingenious and erudite author of Anster Fair long enjoyed the pleasure of his correspondence, previous to his personal acquaintance. In short, many of the most eminent men of our country were his friends. I may, in particular, mention, in reference to Burns, about whom so much has been said of late, that the Edinburgh public were first made acquainted with his poems through Dr. Anderson. I owe it to the memory of my excellent friend to state what passed between us on that subject only a few days previous to his death, and to claim for him that priority of the notice of Burns's poetry, which Mr. Lockhart has assigned to Mr. Mackenzie. The Doctor did not write the article I am about to allude to, but to him is due the praise of first pointing out the merits of the Ayrshire ploughman, and causing them to he more extensively known. The circumstances tire as follows:—

On a journey to Alnwick, Dr Anderson had, for a fellow traveller in the coach, a Mr. Cummings, an Ayrshire gentleman. They had much conversation together, and, among many other things, Mr. Cummings enquired if the Doctor had seen Burns's Poems, the Kilmarnock edition of which had just been published about that time. The Doctor replied he had not, nor had he ever heard of the name; and did not feel inclined to pursue the enquiry, conceiving that the volume was probably the production of some common-place rhymester. Mr. Cummings, however, reverted again and again to the subject with great enthusiasm, which so far excited the Doctor's curiosity as to induce him to request Mr. Cummings to repeat any of the verses he could recollect. Mr. Cummings complied, and Doctor Anderson then heard for the first time the Stanzas to a Mouse. This riveted his attention, and he eagerly enquired where he could procure a sight of the volume. Mr. Cummings referred him to a Mr. Brown, a jeweller in Edinburgh, who had a copy of the work; and, as soon as the Doctor reached home, he got it, and perused it, as may readily be conceived, with time greatest delight. He instantly set off to Mr. Sibbald, to show him the treasure he had got; and his partner, Mr. Stewart, wrote that article, with extracts from the poems, which appeared in the number of time Edinburgh Magazine, or Literary Miscellany, for October, 1786, and added farther extracts in the November number. In the December number, Mr. Mackenzie's elegant article from the Lounger is inserted, and thus prefaced: — "In the Magazine for October and November, our readers (many of them, we believe, for the first time) were made acquainted with the name of the poet Burns; and, by the specimens which we then took the liberty to insert, were enabled, in some degree, to form an opinion of his extraordinary talents. His fame is spreading rapidly, and the merit of his works is acknowledged by all who have had an opportunity of seeing them. We hope, however, that few will be displeased with us for giving a place to the following elegant critical Essay, in which our Scottish Bard is introduced to time readers of the Lounger; more especially as the paper has received some corrections since its first publication on the 9th December."

Burns was made known first through these very specimens to Mr. Miller of Dalswinton, his worthy landlord, who was so delighted with them, that, thinking the poet was some needy ploughman, he sent the sum of five pounds to Mr. Sibbald, to be given to the bard. This circumstance is slightly hinted at in Dr Curie's Life, page 191, G. B.'s edition.

In conclusion, I may add, that the portrait, an engraving from which is about to be published by Messrs Constable and Co., Doctor Anderson thought very highly of indeed. At first, however, he was not much inclined to look upon the likeness as being favourable, having his mind prepossessed, or rather pre-occupied, with Beugo's print; but, upon farther examination, as memory brought back the living likeness, allowed that there was more of the immortal original in this painting than in any thing he had ever seen. A specimen, which was sent to him, of Mr. Horsburgh's engraving, highly pleased him, and he deemed it fortunate that the portrait had fallen into such able hands.

Thus, sir, have I to mourn the loss of one for whom I had the most perfect respect, and to deplore that my acquaintance with him only existed for a few short years of the latter part of his life. His friendship for me and mine I shall cherish among the most valuable records of my heart. I regret exceedingly that I am so little qualified to do any thing like adequate justice to his memory not worth; nevertheless, I trust, "Unblamed may the accents of gratitude rise."

I am, Sir, &c.
P. MAXWELL.
5, Archibald Place,
Edinburgh, 9th March, 1830.