The poems and songs of William Hamilton of Bangour; collated with the ms. volume of his poems, and containing several pieces hitherto unpublished; with illustrative notes, and an account of the life of the author online

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Introduction, vii

Prefaces to the early Editions, xix

Life of William Hamilton of Bangour, xxiii

To a Lady, on her taking something ill that Mr H. said, . . 1
Upon hearing his Picture was in a Lady's Breast, .... "J

Song, a


Horace, Book I., Ode XL, imitated. To Miss Erskine, . . S

Song, ib.

To Mrs A. R., 6

The Braes of Yarrow. To Lady Jane Home, 8

To the Countess of Eglintoun, with " The Gentle Shepherd," 12
The Maid of Gallowshiels, Book I., The Argument— The Fid-
dler Challenges the Piper to a Trial of Skill, ... 1 7

Book II., The Argument— The Trial

of Skill, 29

Epitaph on Lord Binny, 31

on Lord Bargany, ; j /2

on Sir James Sooty, ib.

on Lord Ncwhall, . 33

on Mr Baillie of Jerviswood, o4

Contemplation : or the Triumph of Love, ib.

Ode I.— To Fancy, 47

Ode II 51

Miss and the Butterfly, a Fable, j;;

< Me IV.— On the New Year 1739, 58

Epitaph on Mrs Keith, 60

on Mrs Hepburn, (>'l

On the Death of Mr Basil Hamilton, ib.

An Ode on the Battle of Gladsmuir, 1745, 62



Psalm LXV.j imitated, . . . . ib-

Epitaph, 183

On a Dial in my Garden, 184

On an Obelisk in my Garden, . > ib.

Inscription on a Dog, . . ib.

Epigram on a Lion enraged at seeing a Lad in the Highland

Dress, 18.5

Latin Inscriptions, ib.

Addenda, 189


In presenting this New Edition of the Poems and Songs
of William Hamilton of Bangour to the Public, some
explanation seems due ; and yet we feel a difficulty in ad-
dressing ourselves to the subject as we shoidd like. Hamil-
ton's writings are not so rare or obscure as to render the work
a matter of deep anticpiarian interest ; and yet they are by
no means so accessible to the general reader as the produc-
tions of the author of "The Braes of Yarrow" ought to be.
Believing that, widely as the name of Hamilton is known
among the admirers of our national lyrics, there could not
but exist a strong desire to be better acquainted with the
writings of one who was the contemporary and friend of Allan
Ramsay, and who bore so distinguished a name among the
literary men of his day, we conceived that a new collection
of Hamilton's poetical effusions — moderate in price — might
not prove an unacceptable offering to at least a particular
circle of readers. And we have been most fortunate in car-
rying out our views. At all events — whether the task may
be well or ill performed — we have no complaint to make as to
the lack of materials. Besides having access to the notices
regarding the life and writings of Hamilton — communicated
through David Laing, Esq., of the Signet Library, to the So-
ciety of Scottish Antiquaries, in 1828 — by the late James
Chalmers, Esq., nephew of the author of Caledonia, we owe a


deep debt of gratitude to Mr Laing for the use of a manu-
script volume,* containing not only most of the Poems
and Songs of Hamilton given to the public through the
medium of former editions, but several others, never be-
fore printed. These were, perhaps, withheld chiefly from
motives of delicacy towards the parties referred to, or from
political motives — Hamilton, like most of our other na-
tional poets, having espoused the unhappy cause of the
Stuarts. It is unfortunate, however, that they have been
so long withheld, the length of time which has elapsed
rendering it difficult, if not impossible, to recall many <^^
those personal and local allusions with which his poems,
especially those now presented to the public for the first
time, abound. We have also had the inestimable aid of
Chai'les K. Sharpe, Esq., to whose traditional and family'
knowledge we owe nearly all that is interesting in the way of
illustrative notes : as well as the kindly and valuable assist-
ance of Mr Maidment, whose library is perhaps one of the
most curious in the department of ballad lore in the country.
With ourselves alone, therefore, rests the blame of whatever
deficiency may be attachable to the work. We might, in-
deed, have amplified the illustrative notes, by indulging in
speculative opinions as to the merits or demerits of the re-
spective pieces ; but we felt it necessary to check a proneness
to do so, as in some measure beyond the editorial duty to
which it was proper to limit ourselves. The great object of
our design we conceived to lie in the bringing together all
that could be gleaned of the poetical writings of the chaste
and classic Hamilton of Bangour, with such chronological
and other matters of fact connected with them as have been

* This volume, which seems to have been partly written by Hamilton
himself, and partly by an amanuensis, was purchased by Mr Laing at
the sale of the library of the late George Chalmers, Esq., author of
"Caledonia," in the year 1842.


preserved from oblivion, leaving it to the more poetical, or
more critical, to indulge in such cogitations as the subjects
are calculated to suggest. Nor do we think we have per-
formed a thankless labour. There may be various opinions
entertained as to the poetical merit of Hamilton. Xo one. at
the sametime, can deny his claim to an intimate acquaintance
with the classics, and a chasteness and grace of style which
show that he had drank deeply of those pure springs that in-
spired the muse of Horace and Anacreon. Indeed, it is per-
haps to be lamented that he was so devoted an admirer of
the ancient muse — a bias no doubt to be attributed to his
early education, and an age which produced a Pope. Had
he given more of his attention to the lays of his native land,
we have a foretaste of what success might have been expected
from the exercise of his muse in the truly beautiful ballad of
"The Braes of Yarrow,'* which alone woidd have immorta-
lized his name. In this view we cannot help regretting that
he was so thoroughly scholastic. Whatever estimate, however,
may be formed of William Hamilton of Bangour as a poet,
we feel satisfied that it is impossible to rise from a perusal of
the little volume we are now about to usher into the world,
without admiring the virtues of the man. His heart must
have vibrated with the genuine impulses of the poetic tem-
perament, and in an age not by any means remarkable for
refinement and purity of sentiment, the unblemished charac-
ter of his muse stands prominently forward as the uncom-
promising pioneer of chastity and honour. His more serious
pieces abound with noble sentiment, and exhibit a native de-
testation of intrigue and licentiousness, which must ever ren-
der sacred the memory of the poet as one of the most pure
and upright devotees of the muse. Himself born of the
higher ranks, and no doubt educated in all the prejudices of
birth, he appears to have ever been ready to espouse the


cause of virtue, however meanly attired, and not less willing
to censure the license and immorality of bis own class.

While we have thus brought within the reach of the ge-
neral reader a volume stored with useful lessons, conveyed in
easy, elegant, and often forcible language, and claim for the
author that consideration which the tide of popular literature
was likely soon to deny him, we also conceive that, prone to
the classic as the author usually is, the inquirer after the
manners and amusements of an age gone by will find not-
withstanding repeated glimpses of the past, which the future
delineators of social life in the capital of Scotland during the
past century will do well not to overlook. Indeed we are
surprised that the author of " The Traditions of Edinburgh"
has made so little use of the writings of Hamilton. The

> • ■ • • *

pieces printed in this collection for the first time — such as
the " Interview of Miss Dalrymple and Miss Suttie," — were
not accessible to the author; but this could not be said of
the poem "To a Gentleman going to Travel," which, print-
ed in the edition of Hamilton's Poems published in 1760,
is so illustrative of the social habits and the locale of the
convivial indulgences of the inhabitants, ought not to have
been overlooked by the winter of the chapter on "Taverns
of Old Times."

It may be necessary, before concluding these few remarks,
to give some account of the various editions of the Poems of
Hamilton. The first was — "Poems on Several Occasions.
Glasgow, printed and sold by Rob. and Andrew Foulis, 1748."
Small 8vo, pp. 148. This was an anonymous publication,
printed while the author was abroad. The Preface, which
is dated " Glasgow, December 21, 1748," was written by the
celebrated Dr Adam Smith. It was, however, very imper-
fect, the author having had no opportunity of revising his
pieces. The next, an exact reprint of the former, was


published by the same parties in 1749. In 1758, the Foulises
brought out a new issue of the editions of 1748 and 1749,
with the name of the author on the title-page, and a Dedi-
cation prefixed, "To the Memory of Mr William Crawford,
merchant in Glasgow, the friend of Mr Hamilton."

In 1760 appeared the only edition of Hamilton's Poems
having any pretensions to completeness or accuracy ; and jet
it is sadly deficient in both. It is entitled, " Poems on Se-
veral Occasions. By "William Hamilton of Bangour, Esquire.
Edinburgh, printed for AY. Gordon, bookseller in the Parlia-
ment Close, 1760, 8vo, pp. x. and 262." It has prefixed a
portrait of the author, engraved by Sir Robert Strange,*
from a drawing by Gavin Hamilton, f when at Rome. There
is also a prefatory address "To the Reader," giving a short
biographical account of the author. This was written by
David Rae, Esq. advocate, who was promoted to the Bench
in 1782, assuming the title of Lord Eskgrove, and who died
in 1804. Soon after the publication, the volume was re-
viewed by a jaundiced critic in the Monthy Review for Fe-

* Robert, afterwards Sir Robert, Strange, served his apprenticeship
in Edinburgh, as an engraver, with Mr Richard Cooper; and he began
business for himself in the Scottish capital. In 17-15, he was appointed
Engraver to the Young Pretender, and engraved a portrait of him,
which brought the young artist into notice. He afterwards removed to
London, where he became distinguished in his profession. In 1759 he
went to Italy, residing for some time at Rome, and collected a number
of pictures, of which he afterwards published a " Catalogue Raisonnee."
Leaving Italy, he resided several years at Paris, and was there highly
esteemed as an engraver. From Paris he returned to London, where
he attained great celebrity in his profession; and George III., who pa-
tronised the arts, conferred the honour of Knighthood upon him, in 1787,
at which period he resided in Great Queen Street, Westminster. He
died at London on the 5th July, 1792.

t Gavin Hamilton was a younger son of a respectable family in La-
narkshire. Having gone to Italy for improvement in his profession, he
settled at Rome, where he became celebrated as an historical painter;
and he continued to reside there during the greater part of his life. In
1783, he succeeded to a considerable family estate in Lanarkshire, by
the death of his elder brother, Alexander Inglis Hamilton of Murdie-
Bton, Esq., on the 0th of May, in that year.


bruary 1761, which pi-oduced a good answer (probably by
Mr Rae), entitled, " The Monthly Reviewers Reviewed, in
their character of Mr Hamilton of Bangour's Poems." This
was published in the Edinburgh Magazine for April 1761,
and in the Scots Magazine for May 1761. To those who
have not these volumes beside them, it may be interesting to
quote the respective articles: —

" Poems on Several Occasions. By William Hamilton of
Bangour, Esq. 12mo. 3s. 6d. Edinburgh, printed by
Gordon, and sold by Becket, &c. in London.

Most of these pieces have already appeared in print ; but
this is the first compleat edition of Mr Hamilton's works.
He himself prepared it for the press ;* but did not live to
compleat the publication. He was a gentleman of consider-
able fortune, and of an ancient and honourable family in
Scotland. He appears to have been a man of a social turn,
well bred, had travelled, and acquired a thorough knowledge
of mankind. As to his genius, tho' not greatly elevated, it
was by no means inconsiderable : somewhat on a par with
our Pomfret's ; or Dean Parnel's : His verses are very une-
qual : some harmonious and pleasing ; others rugged, and
difficult to repeat. His turn was chiefly for a song, verses
to a Lady, an imitation of Horace, an Ode from Anacreon,
an Epitaph, a familiar Epistle to a Friend, and such like
short and unlaboured productions : written, we apprehend,
purely as the French say, pour passer le terns — for the amuse-
ment of a gentleman, whose acquired taste, perhaps, rather
than native genius, led him to make these occasional ad-
dresses to the muses.

The following imitation of Milton's V Allegro, will be no
unfavourable specimen of Mr Hamilton's poetical abilities :

Begone, pursuits so vain and light;
Knowledge fruitless of delight," &c.

" The Monthly Reviewers reviewed in their character of
Mr Hamilton of Bangour's poems.

It has been justly observed, that mankind never has been
indebted to criticism for any work of genius. Homer and
Herodote, these venerable and immortal authors, flourished

* This does not, from Lord Eskgrove's reply, seem to have been the case.


ao-es before the name of a critic existed. To come to our
own times, it is now about a century past -since the French,
by a sort of usurpation, have given laws to the drama ; these
have been generally adopted by their neighbours, and by
none more tamely submitted to than by our own nation.
Shakespeare and Oatway wrote without rule. They still
stand unrivalled, and with them the genius of tragedy seems
to have slept.

The present is without doubt an age of criticism : The
rules of writing are well understood ; the advantages thence
derived do not appear. Of late a set of critics have arro-
gated to themselves an absolute jurisdiction, of calling before
their monthly tribunal every literary performance, whereon
they, in a very magisterial manner, are pleased to pass sen-
tence. How far they are truly qualified for so universal a
task, may be doubted. I am led into this argument by the
judgment lately given by the Monthly Reviewers, February
1761, upon the poetical works of Hamilton of Bangour,
lately published at Edinburgh ; which, in my opinion, does
as little honour to their taste, as justice to the poet. I hope,
therefore, I shall be excused for appealing to the public,
against so partial and inconsiderate a judgment, as what
these gentlemen have been pleased to give of our author.

1 As to his genius,' say they, ' though not greatly ele-
vated, it was by no means inconsiderable: somewhat on a
par with our Pomfrets ; or Dean Parnells. His verses are
very unequal : some harmonious and pleasing ; others rugged,
and difficult to repeat. His turn was chiefly for a song,
verses to a lady, an imitation of Horace, an Ode from Ana-
creon, an Epitaph, a familiar Epistle to a Friend, and such
like short and unlaboured productions : written, we appre-
hend, purely as the French say, pour passer le terns — for the
amusement of a gentleman, whose acquired taste, perhaps,
rather than native genius, led him to make these occasional
addresses to the muses.'

The character thus given to our author, I will venture to
say, is altogether inadequate to his merit, and inconsistent
with itself. By placing him in the same rank with Parnell,
one of the most distinguished and amiable of the Euglish
poets, it must be owned, is doing our bard no injustice; but
when, with the same breath, they degrade them both to the
class of Pomfrets, one of the most insipid of the poetical
tribe, this Obviously shows a want of taste. The genuine
spirit of poetry breathes in every line of the tender and ele-
gant Parnell. The verses of the other are not poetry ; they


are prose fettered in rhyme: — but peace be with his manes.*
On the whole, the character our critics give of Mr Hamil-
ton, as having rather an acquired taste than a native genius,
and chiefly turned for an ode, or a song, or such unlaboured
(they meant to say trifling) productions, is equally unjust
and inconsistent. The productions of any poet, who writes
from an acquired taste, without a native genius, must be
laboured, and can never please. That this can never apply
to our author, the bare reading of that very ode which the
Reviewers have transcribed from him, will, to any person of
taste, justly evince. Therefore, without further censure of
the above misapplied criticism, from the regard which I owe
to the memory of our author, whom living I greatly esteem-
ed, I shall attempt to pay a small tribute to his remains, by
saying a few words on the subject of his writings.

"To a thorough knowledge of the ancients, in their native
dresses, our author joined an uncommon fine taste, suscep-
tible of their genuine beauties. From these great models,
he has happily transfused their spirit into many beautiful
imitations and parodies, as well as in some closer transla-
tions of their works. His imitations likewise of our own
poets, Spencer, Milton, Pope, Gay, shew with what ease he
could assume their distinguishing genius and manner. It is
not a borrowed dress which he puts on, a few particular ex-
pressions, uncommon phrases, and antiquated words, which,
interwoven through a mass of dull verses, are, by some of
our modern genuises of acquired taste, called imitations : our
poet catches the spirit, the genius, of those great masters ;
the same fire which animates them, blaze with a full, clear,
and continued flame, through most of his pieces.

At the same time he everywhere shews himself an original.
His thoughts are always elegant and just, his figures bold
and animated, his colouring warm and beautiful. His odes
shew what a poetical fancy, how fine an imagination he pos-
sessed. What a fine picture has he painted in the following
lines of his third ode!

Now Winter, from the frozen north,
Drives his iron chariot forth ;

* If any reader has euriosity enough to judge, himself, of the real merit
of Pom fret, and that of our bard, let him compare the ' Love Triumph-
ant ' of the first, with the ' Ode on Contemplation ; or, The Triumph of
Love' of our author; and he will clearly see with what justice they
have been compared.


His grizzly hand in icy chains
Fair Tweda's silver flood constrains :
Cast up thy eyes, how bleak and bare
He wanders on the tops of Yare !

This is painting indeed. How striking is the following
figure in his second ode!

Despair, that solitary stands,
And wrings a halter in his hands.

What a fine image is here struck out! The figures which
are afterwards introduced, of Dread, Avarice, Conceit, Cu-
riosity, are all in the same original taste and spirit. It i*
not description : to read with taste, we here forget we are
reading; we imagine we see a groupe of statues present
themselves to our eyes, in the boldest and most animated
attitudes. It would be anticipating the pleasure of the reader
to point out the several beauties of his odes. I cannot help,
however, making a few observations, upon that on Conti m-
plation, which, for the excellency of the composition, the
propriety of the episodes, which are finely introduced, and
the beautiful strain of poetry which runs through the whole
of it, is perhaps inferior to few lyric poems in any language.
The exordium on harmony, or divine poetry, and the invo-
cation of the poet to bring Contemplation to her aid, as a
relief from the pangs of disappointed love, is noble and in-
teresting. The episode of Nature on the works of Creation,
is highly poetical ; that of Devotion, manly and elevated :
in both, the poet has taken the chief hints from the sacred
writings of the two Royal Poets, of whose excellency he had

the highest idea. With what solemnity does he approach

the house of prayer!

-0 thou, my heart,

Forget each low and earthly part:

Religion enter in my breast,

A mild and acceptable guest ;

I'ut off, in Contemplation drowned,

Each sinful thought in holy ground,

And cautious tread, with awful fear,

The courts of heaven for God is here!

How awful is the pause in this last line! How noble the
conception which follows it! This is the true sublime. It
bursts on us like lightning: it is the thought of a heart
-"truck with the sense of the divine presence, and is a fine
introduction to the address, which follows, to the Supreme
Being, in a parody of the prayer of Augur, conceived in the


true spirit of the noble original. The last episode, on the
mansion of death, is solemn and striking; and the conclusion
of the whole, with the desponding complaint of the poet,
that death alone is the cure of disappointed love, is ex-
tremely pathetic. In fine, the whole is elegant and finished,
and affords an entertainment for the finest taste.

There are few of our author's poems but have their beau-
ties. His songs are prettily turned and pointed. The Braes
of Yarrow is finely romantic, and happily falls into the me-
lancholy sweetness, and picturesque wildness, peculiar to the
ancient Scottish songs. His song, The maid thafs made for
love and me, has been generally admired ; and for its unaf-
fected simplicity, and tenderness, may be esteemed one of
the finest ballads in the English language.

His epitaphs are manly and solemn ; and as the author
was greatly above a mean prostitution of praise, his charac-
ters, to such as knew the originals, are known to be just.
Several of them rise with a noble elevation of thought.
That on Miss Seton is extremely fine, and truly elegiac ; all
of them abound with the pathetic : they are the genuine
productions of a heart that felt ; and, with justice, we may
say of our poet, that, while he delights the imagination, he
speaks to the heart. The tenderness of some of his pieces
it is impossible to read without feeling ; and indeed that gen-
tleness and simplicity of manners, that humanity and warmth
of heart, which endeared him to every body, shines forth in
all his writings, and is characteristical of them.

As his genius was extensive and various, his fancy has led
him through a variety of subjects ; many of which he left
unfinished, several uncorrected, and some, perhaps, unequal
to the generality of his pieces. This will not be wondered
at by those who knew the man ; with what ease he wrote,
with what indifference he regarded them after. Never was
there a writer who had so little of the author. His chief
pleasure was in the composing. His paternal fondness for
his verses seemed to languish with their birth. For their
care and publication, we are entirely beholden to his friends,
from whose hands they have been recovered. Had the au-
thor himself lived to have given them his finishing hand ;
and introduced them himself into the world, they would, no
doubt, have appeared in a better dress ; such, however, as
they are, they will always be considered, by persons of taste,
as a valuable addition to the number of our English classical

Edinburgh, May 1761."


There have been various reprints of Hamilton's Poems.
In 1794, the whole of the edition of 1760, with the addition
of the " Ode on the Battle of Gladsmuir," was reprinted
in the ninth volume of Dr Anderson's British Poets; in
Sharpe's Collection of the Bi-itish Poets, edited by Mr T.
Park, in 1808; and in the fifteenth volume of Mr A. Chal-
mers' English Poets, in 1810.

Thus there has been no distinct edition of Hamilton's
Poems since 1760, ninety years ago, until the present issue,

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Online LibraryUnknownThe poems and songs of William Hamilton of Bangour; collated with the ms. volume of his poems, and containing several pieces hitherto unpublished; with illustrative notes, and an account of the life of the author → online text (page 1 of 18)