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the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, was Wilkie, author of the Epigoniad, a poem now but little read or known, yet certainly of great merit, not only as possessing much of the spirit and manner of Homer, of whom its author was an enthusiastic admirer, but also a manly and vigorous style of poetry, rarely found in modern compositions of the kind. Of Wilkie all the party spoke as superior in original genius to any man of his time, but rough and unpolished in his manners, and still less accommodating to the decorum of society in the ordinary habits of his life. Charles Townsend, a very competent judge of men, and who, both as a politician and a man of the world, was fond of judging them, said, after being introduced to Wilkie, and spending a day with him at Dr Carlyle's, that he had never met with a man who approached so near to the two extremes of a god and a brute as Dr Wilkie
It might surprise us to find how much Wilkie, with all his vigour of mind, his powersof expression, and shrewdness of observation, has failed in the Moral Fables which he published some time after his Epigoniad, did we not know how much poetry requires feeling, as well as knowledge and fancy, a quality which Wilkie did not much possess. To poetical excellence, perhaps, even a degree of nervous sensibility, bordering on weakness, is often favourable; the poetical talent is favoured, at least, by that pliability of imagination which identifies itself with the character, with the passion, with the scene, which it delineates; it goes out of the man's self, as it were, to assume such character and passion, to lose its own actual situation in such a scene. Hence, too, one can easily account for what has appeared strange to some, (and the wonder is, perhaps, a compliment to those who think it strange,) namely, the highly virtuous poetry, or works of imagination akin to poetry, of men whose conduct was so little actuated by virtue.
It is, perhaps, to a want of this poetical sensibility that we may chiefly impute the inferior degree of interest excited by Wilkie's Epigoniad, to that which its merits in other respects might excite. Perhaps it suffers also from its author having the Homeric imitation constantly in view, in which, however, he must be allowed, I think, to have been very successful,—so successful that a person, ignorant of Greek, will, I believe, better conceive what Homer is in the original by perusing the Epigoniad, than by reading even the excellent translation of Pope.
Of this groupe of men, with whom, as I have said, Mr John Home was associated, was Dr Wallace, another minister of Edinburgh, known as an author by his Treatise on the Numbers of Mankind, who cultivated the science of political economy before it had begun to be studied here under those great masters, David Hume, and his friend, Adam Smith. Dr Wallace, with the most perfect correctness of clerical character, was a man of the world in that better sense of the term, which implies a knowledge of whatever human science or learning has done to enlighten mankind; and he even extended his reading to its innocent though lighter accomplishments. He wrote Notes, as his son informs us, on " Gallini's Treatise on Dancing." I sat with my father's family in the Little Church, (called Haddo's Hold, from its having been once used as a prison for Lord Haddo, in the days of civil contention in Scotland,) where Dr Wallace was minister; and I perfectly remember his introducing in a sermon, comparing modern morals, manners, and attainments, with those of the ancients, a high encomium on " Gray's Elegy on a Country Church Yard," which had been published a short while before, which he said he would venture to compare with the most celebrated specimens of ancient classic poetry. *
* "An anecdote, told by the late Professor Robison, (as mentioned in his Life, read by the late Professor Playfair to this Society,) deserves well to be remembered. Professor Robison, then employed as an engineer in the army commanded by General Wolfe, happened to be on duty in the boat in which the General went to visit some of his posts, the night before the battle, which was expected to be decisive of the fate of the campaign. The evening was fine, and the scene, considering the work they were engaged in, and the
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The opposite party in church politics had also their economist and arithmetician, Dr Alexander Webster, who, from his talents in those departments, arranged, if not originated, the Corporation of the Widows' Fund, destined to support the widows and orphans of the Scots clergy, an institution the most useful as well as prosperous of any of the kind in Europe. Drs Dick and Peter Gumming were likewise very eminent among that party for talents and learning. Dick was of that high unbending mind, which was better fitted for public exhibitions of eloquence than for the level of ordinary conversation; but Dr Webster and P. Gumming possessed a degree of natural humour and pleasantry equal to those of any men with whom my youthful days had the pleasure of being associated.
Of George Wishart, minister of Edinburgh, and another of what was termed the moderate party, the figure is before me at this moment. It is possible some of the Society who hear me may remember him. Without the advantage of that circumstance, 1 can faintly describe his sainted countenance—that physiognomy so truly expressive of Christian meekness, yet, in the pulpit, often lighted up with the warmest devotional feeling. In the midst of his family society—a numerous and amiable one—it beamed with so much patriarchal affection and benignity, so much of native politeness, graced with those manners which improve its form, without weakening its substance, that I think a painter of the *Apostolic School couldhave no where found a more perfect model.
morning to which they were looking forward, sufficiently impressive. As they rowed along, the General, with much feeling, repeated nearly the whole of Gray's Elegy (which had appeared not long before, and was yet but little known) to an officer who sat with him in the stern of the boat; adding, as he concluded, that 'he would prefer being the author of that poem to the glory of beating the French to-morrow.'" —Play/air's Works, Life of Robison, vol. IV. p. 126-7.
The lay members of this circle, with whom Ml* Home spent much of his time, were not less eminent for talents than amiable in manners; Lord Elibank, Sir Gilbert Elliot, Mr Wedderburn, afterwards Lord Loughborough, Mr Baron Mure, andMr Johnston, afterwards Sir William Pulteney. Lord Elibank was, in conversation, much beyond any of those his companions. His wit was of the most brilliant, yet, at the same time, of the most natural kind. His knowledge of books was various and extensive, and his memory of what he read surprisingly accurate as well as retentive. His remarks both on books and men were not less conspicuous for originality than discernment.
* I am aware that there is no such school technically so called; but I shall be easily understood to mean that class of painters whose subjects led them so often to exhibit the sainted countenances of our Saviour and his disciples.