1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James Gray

S. C. Hall, in "Some Particulars relative to the Ettrick Shepherd" New Monthly Magazine 46 (February 1836) 201-02.



In the year which followed the publication of his "Mountain Bard," the Shepherd having had occasion to visit Edinburgh, and when again on his return to the country, was accidentally introduced to a gentleman, a fellow-traveller in the coach, who afterwards became one of his zealous supporters, as he ever was one of his most enthusiastic admirers, and, by a strange chain in the course of events, in time his brother-in-law. A notice of that meeting, in a sketch like the present, cannot be without its value: the gentleman to whom we allude was the Rev. James Gray, at that time one of the masters in the High School of Edinburgh, a man of letters himself, and an admirer of all who trod in the same path. He was then on his road to Dumfriesshire, with the intention of visiting his father-in-law, Mr. Phillips, who, in after-years, was connected with the poet by the same endearing relationship. Among his fellow-passengers, Mr. Gray found one whose appearance, broad Scottish dialect, simple yet pleasing manners, bespoke the respectable and happy farmer, for in that light did he look upon his companion. The road over which they were travelling runs through the midst of that pastoral range of mountains among whose most unfrequented solitudes streams such as the Tweed and the Clyde, the Annan and the Ettrick, arise. These rivers, it is well known, are famed in Scottish song, connected as they are with many a traditionary tale, and with deeds of daring performed in days now long past and gone. The conversation of the party turning upon the scenery of the country, and the tales of former days, and the name of Ettrick having been frequently mentioned, Mr. Gray asked his farmer-looking companion if he had ever seen the Ettrick Shepherd? "What, an a' be he?" was the answer of the kind-hearted poet, in the homely dialect of his own native mountains. We need hardly say that Mr. Gray was gratified in no common manner by this unexpected but to him most welcome meeting, or how warmly he pressed the Shepherd to visit him on his return to Edinburgh. On their parting, the Shepherd gave his newly-made friend, Mr. Gray, a copy of his "Mountain Bard." This volume was afterwards left with old Mr. Phillips, who was so much pleased with its contents, that he read them over and over, and retained the book in his possession as long as one leaf of it hung to another, never dreaming at that time that the mountain-bard himself should become his son-in-law. On the Shepherd's first visit to Edinburgh after this meeting he found his future bride residing with her relative Mr. Gray; she was accompanied by a cousin, who, to much beauty, had the prospect, which was eventually realised, of inheriting a considerable fortune. After dinner, when the young ladies retired to the drawing-room, the Shepherd was asked what he thought of Miss Susan P—? He answered, "Margaret's the lass for me." The worthy Shepherd was more pleased with the cheerful smile, the dark hair, and black eyes of is own Margaret, than with the more courtly manners and brighter prospects of her wealthier cousin, and he never afterwards had reason to repent of the preference which he then showed.