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able than those which many parents could relate of children whose youthful brilliancy faded in later years into only respectable mediocrity. Wilson's parents appear to have been fortunate in their choice of instructors for their boy. He was placed, at an early age, under the care of the Rev. Dr. M’Latchie, in the Parish of the Mearns. This worthy clergyman fostered his pupil's love of manly sports, and was as proud of his feats of wrestling and leaping as of his classical acquirements. The unclouded happiness of his boyhood, and the affectionate regard in which he held every nook and corner, loch and moor, in this “ loveliest of Scotland's thousand parishes,” are often seen in his “ Recreations.”
From the Mearns he went at twelve to Glasgow University, where he showed himself an ambitious, quick, and thorough student. Here he first mixed in social pleasures, and is reported to have dressed with scrupulous neatness and care, - a singular contrast to the Christopher North of his maturity. Neither the powers nor the peculiarities of later years were yet developed.
The only evidence of literary ambition at this period is seen in a very long and dull letter to Wordsworth. The selfesteem so evident in this prolix epistle is poorly veiled under expressions of humility. It is, however, the same quality which, when it afterward rioted in unbounded extravagance of expression, gave the charm of a strong personality to his writings.
After a six years' residence at the University of Glasgow Wilson went to Oxford. By the death of his father he had already come into possession of a fortune of fifty thousand pounds. His position as gentleman commoner, his brilliant conversational powers, and abounding humor, brought him into contact with the least studious class of young men at the University. Added to these temptations to an irregular life, he was at this time laboring under great mental excitement. During his residence in Glasgow he had formed an attachment to a lady whom we only know as Margaret - This attachment, which appears to have been strong, as was natural in one capable of such delicate sensibilities and strong passions, and which was fully reciprocated by its object, did not result in a marriage. The story is clumsily and obscurely told; but it is tolerably plain that the mother of the young man was the chief obstacle in the way; and her objections appear to have been grounded simply upon the different social positions of the parties, and the moderate fortune of the lady. It is difficult, perhaps, for the American reader to understand how a young man of ample fortune and mature years could be brought to the verge of insanity, because a narrow-minded parent objected, for such reasons, to his choice of a wife. Matrons are rare among us who exercise so much domestic despotism, and sons are still more rare who relinquish their dearest hopes at its dictation.
The effect of these circumstances upon Wilson's character was extremely unfortunate. Of his life at this time he says, in a letter to a friend :
“I believe that I live rather too hard, and Į have formed a very determined resolution to change my ways; but it is one thing to make a resolution, and another thing to keep it. I have certainly led a dissipated life for some time; but
• Wine, they say, drives off despair,
And bids even hope remain,
To fill my glass again.'”
During his summer vacations he undertook solitary excursions through Wales and Ireland, the latter “prolific in adventure and scrape,” and his biographer relates that on one occasion he returned home from Oxford on foot, in company with a party of strolling Gypsies. A curious account is given of his midnight excursions to the tavern when the London coach arrived, waiting on the guests, joking with the hostlers, and arousing the college porter at an early hour in the morning for admittance.
After passing a “ very splendid” examination, he took his Bachelor's degree cum laude, and left Oxford in 1807. With abundant pecuniary resources and no profession, he was entirely at liberty to choose his place of residence. Attracted by the fine scenery of the Lake country, and as much perhaps by the society of those who have made it still. more famous, he settled at Elleray, on Lake Windermere. In this wild region his love of out-of-door sports and daring and romantic adventure found abundant opportunity for exercise. Among his rustic neighbors his genial humor and muscular exploits excited general admiration. An old Laker, William Ritson, whose chief boast was that he had thrown Mr. Wilson in wrestling, relates the following anecdote :-.
6• T' first time ’at Professor Wilson cam to Wastd'le Head,' said Ritson, ‘he hed a tent set up in a field, an' he gat it weel stock’t wi’ bread, an' beef, an' cheese, an' rum, an' ale, an' sic like. Then he gedder't up my granfadder, an' Thomas Tyson, an' Isaac Fletcher, an' Joseph Stable, an'aad Robert Grave, an' some mair; an' there was gay deed amang 'em. Then, nowt would sarra, bud he mun hev a boat, an' they mun all hev a sail. Well, when they gat into t' boat, he tellit un to be particklar careful, for he was liable to git giddy in t head, an' if yan ov his giddy fits sud chance to cuin on, he mud happen tummle into ľwatter. Well, that pleased 'em all gaily weel, an' they said they'd take varra girt care on him. Then he leaned back an' called oot that they mun pull quicker. So they did, and what does Wilson do then but topples ower eb’m ov his back i' t' watter with a splash. Then there was a girt cry: "Eh! Mr. Wilson 's i' t' watter!” an' yan click’t an'anudder click’t, but nean o' them could get bod on him, an' there was sic a scrowe as nivver. At last, yan o'them gat him round t neck as he popped up at teal o'ť boat, an' Wilson taad him to keep a good hod, for he mud happen slip him ageàn. But what, it was nowt but yan ov his bit o' pranks, he was snurkin' an' laughin' all ť time. Wilson was a fine, gay, girt-hearted fellow, as strang as a lion, an'as lish as a trout, an' he hed sic antics as nivver man hed. Whativver ye sed tull him ye'd get yowr change back for it gaily soon...... It was a' life an' murth amang us, as lang as Professor Wilson was at Wastd’le Head.'”
At one time Wilson had quite a fleet of small vessels on Lake Windermere, and many anecdotes are current of his reckless escapades, tempting the waters of the lake at all hours and at all seasons. On one stormy December night, the snow falling fast, it is said, he set off with an old boatman for a sail on the lake. Their trip ended disastrously, as might be supposed, Wilson being nearly frozen to death, and barely escaping with his life.
One of the poet's favorite amusements may well excite surprise at the present day. From the time of his residence at Oxford he kept a large number of game birds, and his pride and interest in them are the occasion of frequent entries in his diary. These entries sometimes come into curious juxtaposition with more serious matters, as in the following instance :
“ June 12, 1812. --- Expected that a volume will be completed by June 12, 1814. May the Almighty enlighten my mind, so that I may benefit my fellow-creatures, and discharge the duties of my life. J. W. – Small black muffled hen set herself, with about eight eggs, on Monday night or Tuesday morning, 7th July.”
Mrs. Gordon makes some natural but rather lame attempts to justify a taste so obviously unrefined. We must acknowledge that, in this rich and varied character, coarse proclivities are found in close contact with the most delicate and feminine sensibility. A few years after his settlement at Elleray, Wilson became acquainted with Miss Jane Penny, a young lady belonging to a stanch Tory family of Liverpool, recently removed to the Lakes. She is described as a person of great beauty and amiability, and their acquaintance resulted in a marriage in 1811. Mrs. Wilson appears to have been a devoted wife and mother, and the letters addressed to her by her husband — though unnecessarily large in number and of little general interest — give pleasing pictures of their domestic life, and show that she always retained his warmest love and respect. Mrs. Wilson was as violent a Tory as her husband, and, like many of her sex, made up in warmth of feeling what she lacked in a clear understanding of political subjects. It is amusing to read her note to a friend at the time of the passage of the Reform Bill :
“I hope you are as much disgusted and grieved as we all are with the passage of this accursed Reform Bill. I never look into a newspaper now; but we shall see what they will make of it by and by.”
Her sympathy with her husband in his athletic exercises is curiously seen in the bravery and spirit with which she undertook a journey in his company through the Western Highlands, – a feat which excited the greatest amazement among their friends. In a letter to Hogg, Wilson says they walked,
on this journey, three hundred and fifty miles in about two months. Mrs. Wilson's friends confidently expected to see her return with those blemishes which Nature capriciously leaves, while she gives the bloom of fuller health ; but an old lady who saw her immediately after her return exclaimed with enthusiasm, “ Weel, I declare, she's come back bonnier than ever.”
During his residence at Elleray, Wilson published his first volume, “ The Isle of Palms, and other Poems.” It was received without enthusiasm, - a circumstance which surprised and somewhat annoyed the author. At this time, however, Byron was at the height of his wonderful popularity, and it was hardly to be expected that poems like those of Wilson could produce a strong impression upon the public. They are certainly smooth, graceful, and pleasing, but neither good nor bad enough to attract much attention. Lockhart gives a tolerably fair estimate of the poet's strong and weak points when he jestingly says:
“ To tell the truth, I think John Wilson shines
His second volume, “ The City of the Plague, and other Poems,” appears to have been more generally read and admired, as Wilson was, from other causes, at the time of its publication, more known; but few readers of the present day will be likely to undertake a complete perusal of it.
After a residence of several years at Elleray, Wilson met with some pecuniary loss which made it necessary for him to relinquish this pleasant home, and to make immediate exertion for the support of a young family. It was this disaster which opened to him his most appropriate sphere of effort, and discovered his peculiar and brilliant powers as a writer. He removed to Edinburgh, and at first undertook the study of law; but soon finding it uncongenial, he gave it up and became a contributor to Blackwood's Magazine, which had just been established. After the Magazine had dragged along a feeble existence for a few months, under very inefficient management, Mr. Blackwood himself took the editorial chair, and drew around him a powerful corps of contributors. Conspicuous among these were John Wilson and John Gibson Lockhart.