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I hope I have not trespassed too far on the patience of the Society, in this account of Mr Home's companions and associates. Young men speak from feeling, old men from memory. I am aware that the memory of old men is apt to be tiresome, from the length and minuteness of its details; it is only interesting to others, in proportion as it travels over important events, or among eminent men. I know also, that the narrator is often deceived as to the interest of his narrative. The sun-set of life, like that of the natural day, throws a golden gleam on the objects of our recollection, which brightens them to our view much beyond the appearance which they wear when clothed in soberer colours; but the narrative, like the landscape, draws some advantage, with susceptible minds, from the tint which is thus thrown upon it, though they may be aware that it is illumined somewhat beyond the colouring of truth.
Such companions and associates as I have mentioned naturally encouraged Mr Home's love of letters, and his ardour for poetry. But, besides this excitement, he had from nature, or a very early education, received a turn of mind, or imbibed sentiments and habits, very favourable to the poetical spirit. Notice has been already taken of that admiration of the chivalrous character, of ardent valour, and of military fame, which Mr Ferguson states as one of his marked early propensities, personified in his character of Young Douglas. His favourite reading was of a kind to inflame the imagination, and to dramatize, as it were, the passions. Plutarch was the author constantly in his hands. The spirit with which he read this historian may be judged by the opening of an Essay he had begun to write on the character of the Gracchi. "I hope," says he, in detailing his motives for writing it, "that the freemen of Great Britain will read Plutarch, and my reflections upon his narrative, with the same passion and pleasure that I think and write; and while they contemplate and admire the actions of those great men, be inspired with that spirit of liberty which was so strong in them."
Mr Home's favourite amusement was angling— one that seems to me peculiarly adapted to nourish poetical feeling, and to inspire poetical enthusiasm. The romantic scenery which surrounds the angler —the quiet and solitude to which his art necessarily leads—the pauses which the contemplative angler (as Walton calls him) frequently indulges— that repose of the soul which Rousseau has so enchantingly described, which lets sleep the severer faculties and powers, but wakes the fancy and the heart;—all these concomitants of this amusement are the natural food of poetry. From the usual scenes of this diversion Mr Home has borrowed an expression, which, though somewhat bold, and therefore made a subject of ridicule to the soberer critic, any man who has listened to the rippling of a brook, in the stillness of noon, or in the silence of a summer evening, will immediately acknowledge to be just:
"The river, coursing o'er its pebbly bed,
Mr Home's classical reading was such as to bend his mind to that heroic sentiment of which I have taken notice above, the swell of which is one of the nurses of poetry. He had written an Essay, of which I have seen considerable detached pieces, on the Character of Cornelius and Sempronius Gracchus, of Cleomenes and Agis, and the Republican Form of Government, of which, like most young men of ardent minds, he was at that time a great admirer. From the perusal of Plutarch, he had early conceived the idea of writing a tragedy on the subject of the death of Agis, as related by that biographer, and had completed the first copy of it soon after he was settled as minister of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, which was in the year 1746. To that church he was presented by the patron, Mr Kinloch, afterwards Sir David Kinloch of Gilmerton, and was the immediate successor of another poetical incumbent, author of a very popular poem,* The Grave. Mr Kinloch did him
* This gentleman may be mentioned with another dis
another favour, which had a material influence on his future life; he introduced him to his relation, Lord Milton, then Sous-Ministre for Scotland, under Archibald Duke of Argyle, who conceived a very great kindness for him. In a conversation soon after this introduction, the Duke said, "Mr Home, I am now too old to hope for an opportunity of doing you any material service myself; hut I will do you the greatest favour in my power, by presenting you to my nephew, the Earl of Bute." Amidst his classical and poetical reading, however, Mr Home occupied himself not only in the studies \ of Ethics and Divinity, but also in the composition of Sermons. But even at these moments, it/ would seem as if his mind was constrained, not changed, from its favouiite bent; for, on the backs, or blank interstices of the papers containing some of his earliest composed sermons, there are passages of poetry, written in a more or less perfect state, as the inspiration or leisure of the moment prompted or allowed. But his clerical duties, of every kind, were always attended to, and so great a favourite was he with the parishioners of Athelstaneford,
tinction, though he did not live to reap the pleasure it must have conferred; he was the father of the late Robert Blair, President of the Court of Session, a name which will be long remembered with reverence and admiration by the Bar of Scotland.
VOL. I. C
that, as Dr Carlyle was informed by a gentleman who heard him preach his farewell sermon at that church, there was not a dry eye among his audience; and, at a subsequent period, when he retired from active life, and built a house in East-Lothian, near the parish where he had once been minister, his former parishioners, as Lord Haddington informed me, insisted on leading the stones for the building, and would not yield to his earnest importunity to pay them any compensation for their labour.
I have in my possession part of a scroll of answers to the observations of some friendly critic, on the play of Agis, the first production of Mr Home's tragic muse, but it is so mutilated, that it is impossible to trace its date, or the person to whom it is addressed ; but, from the fragment which remains, Mr Home seems to have availed himself of the remarks of his friend, in several particulars. The original plan of the tragedy, I have understood, was to have constructed the fable solely on the distresses and death of Agis, as a patriot king ; but fearing that this subject was too barren of incident and passion, to suit the prevailing dramatic taste, he afterwards added the love part of the plot, by the introduction of the Athenian maid Euanthe, betrothed to the hero of the piece, Lysander, the friend and avenger of Agis.
Conceiving that, thus improved in its interest, the play was now fit for the stage, he went to Lou