I have with much misgiving taken upon myself
the duty of writing a Memoir of Professor Wilson, believing that my
father’s life was worthy of being recorded, and that it would bear to be
truthfully told. I was well aware of the great difficulties attending
its performance, and they proved not less than I anticipatedj and I knew
that I rendered myself liable to the charge of presumption in
undertaking a task declined by abler hands. But I could not give up my
persuasion that an imperfect picture of such a man was better than none
at all, and in that conviction I have done what I could.
The many-sided character of the man I have not attempted to unfold; nor
have I presumed to give a critical estimate of his works—they must speak
for themselves. Now and then, in the course of the narrative, where
letters are introduced referring to literary subjects, I have made a few
observations on his writings ; but in no other way, with the exception
of those chapters devoted to Blackwoods Magazine and the Moral
Philosophy chair, have I departed from my original intention of giving a
simple domestic memoir. If I have in any way done justice to my father’s
memory in this respect, I am rewarded.
I have availed myself of the letters of my father’s principal
correspondents, so far as they served to throw light on the main
subject, or were in themselves interesting and characteristic. I trust,
in doing so, that I have inserted nothing calculated to displease or
give pain to any now living. If I have erred in this or other respects,
my inexperience in literary work must be my excuse.
I have spoken of the difficulties that I had to encounter. It is now my
pleasing duty to thank the friends who have so kindly lent me their
assistance, without which I should indeed have been much at a loss.
To my brothers, Mr. John Wilson of Billholm, Mr. Blair Wilson, and my
brother-in-law, Professor Aytoun, I am indebted for memoranda and many
Others, too numerous to mention by name, will, I hope, accept my thanks
for their courteous kindness in rendering me such service as lay in
To the various students of former days, who have so heartily contributed
their reminiscences of the "old man eloquent” whom theydoved, I offer my
most grateful thanks. Those parts of the work which are chiefly made up
of such contributions, will, I am sure, be regarded by many as among its
most valuable and interesting contents. To Mr. Hill Burton, the Bev.
William Smith, and Mr. A. T. Innes, I am under very special obligations
in this respect.
To Messrs. Blackwood I am indebted for a complete list of my father’s
contributions to the Magazine from 1826, which has enabled me to make
use of autobiographic details otherwise inaccessible.
To Mr. Macduff of Bonhard, and Mr. John Boyd, Publisher, I am obliged
for their kindness in placing at my disposal the correspondence
connected with the publication respectively of the Isle of Palms and of
Sir David Brewster and Sheriff Cay have conferred a most valuable favor
upon me in permitting the use of Mr. Lockhart’s portfolios.
To my friend, Mr. Alexander Nicolson, Advocate, I am especially
indebted: his warm encouragement aided my labors, and his judicious
advice guided me in the arrangement of my materials, which, both in MS.
and in type, he also carefully revised. The trouble which he has kindly
taken in connection with this work is such as could have been expected
only from one of those whom Professor Wilson loved to call his “
In conclusion, I may express my humble hope that this volume, however it
may come short of expectation, will prove acceptable to my friends and
that portion of the public who love and respect the name of John Wilson.
Edinburgh, October, 1862.
Chapter I. Boyhood.
Paisley—Nursery Amusements—His First Fish—Sermon—Oure John’s Teegar—Mr.
Peddie’s School—Life in the Mearns Manse.
Chapter II. Glasgow College. 1791-1803.
His Father’s Death—Enters College—Professor Jardine—Professor
Young—Diary in 1801—Portrait by Raeburn—Student Life in Glasgow—Fondness
for Barley-sugar—Walking Feats—Essay Writing—Companions—Letter to
Chapter III. Love and Poetry, Life at Oxford. 1803-08.
Dychmont—First Love—Poems to
—Cock-fighting—Pugilism—Leaping—Reminiscences of Magdalen College by a
Chapter IV. The Orphan Maid - University Career. 1803—08.
Letters to Margaret and to Mr. Findlay—Letter from Mr. Blair—Letters to
Mr. Findlay—Letter from Mr. Blair—Examination for his Bachelor
Degree—Letters to Mr. Findlay—End of the Love Story.
Chapter V. Life at Elleray. 1807—11.
Description of Elleray—The Old Cottage—The New House—First Meeting with
Wordsworth; with De Quincey—The Anglers’ Tent—Mathetes—Poetic
Compositions—Boating—His Fleet on Windermere—Billy Balmer—Lake
escapade—Hunting a Bull—Love of Animals—His Game Birds—“A Main at
Elleray"—Wrestling—“A varra bad un to Lick”—Gale House—Its Inmates —A
Ball; a Regatta, etc.—Letter to Mr. Harden—Letter to De Quincey—Poetry—Letters
to Mr. J. Smith, Publisher.
Chapter VI. Marriage. The Isle of Palms. 1811-15.
Letter to Mr. Findlay, on the day of his Marriage—Letters to Mr. Smith
about “The Isle of Palms” —Lines on James Grahame—Edinburgh, 53 Queen
Street—Letters to Mr. Smith—Plans for future work at Elleray—Loses his
Fortune—Studies for the Scottish Bar—Note from Mr. Blair—Departure from
Elleray—Letter to De Quincey.
Chapter VII. Life in Edinburgh. The Bar. The Highlands. Elleray.
Edinburgh—Mrs. Wilson, Senior—Called to the Bar—Letter to Mrs. Wilson,
from the “ Head of the Yarrow”—The Shepherd at Home—An Adventure at
Peebles—A Pedestrian Tour in the Highlands by Mr. and Mrs. Wilson: their
Adventures—The great Caird—Letter to Hogg, giving an account of the
Tour—Criticism on the Poets—Letter to Mr. Smith, proposing a new volume
of Poems—Publication of “The City of the Plague”—Letters to his
Wife—Letter to Mr. Smith—Letter from Jeffrey on his Poems—Loch
Awe—Letter to Mrs. Wilson, from Achlian— Adventure with Tinkers—His mode
of Fishing—Letters to Mrs. Wilson, from Blair-Athole and Dingwall—Adventure
at Tomintoul—Mrs. Grant of Laggan’s remarks on Wilson—At Elleray—
Chapter VIII. Literature. Blackwood's Magazine. 1817-20.
His Connection with Periodical Literature—Edinburgh Monthly
Magazine—Letter to Mrs. Wilson from Kinloch Rannoch—Review of Lalla
Rookh—Fishing Tour—Letters from Jeffrey regarding Contributions for the
Edinburgh Review—Fragment from Jeffrey regarding a Vindication of
Wordsworth—State of Parties in Edinburgh in 1817—Establishment of
Blackwood— Early Editors and Contributors—The Scots Magazine—A change in
the Management—Number VII.—The New Contributors—The Scorpion—The
Leopard—Mr. Lockhart—John Wilson—Mr. Robert Sym—James
Hogg—Mystifications—Leigh Hunt and Sir J. G-. Dalyell—More
Mystification—Dr. James Scott, 7 Miller Street, Glasgow, alias The
Odontist—Captain Paton’s Lament —The Dilettanti Club—Letters from Mrs.
Wilson to her Sister Miss Penny on the Magazine— Ensign O’Doherty—A
Magazine Row, etc.—The Style of Criticism adopted—Letter to Professor
Laugner—The Attack upon Professor Playfair—111 Results—Hypocrisy
Unveiled—orrespondence with the Author—Letter from Mr. Morehead—Letter
to Mr. Morehead—Letter from Jeffrey, vindicating the Edinburgh Review
from the Charge of Infidelity.
Chapter IX. Moral Philosophy Chair. 1820.
Removes to Ann Street—Sir Henry Raeburn—Sir John Watson Gordon—Sir
William Allan— Death of Dr. Thomas Brown—Announces himself as a
Candidate for the Chair of Moral Philos* ophy—Sir William
Hamilton—Fierce opposition by the Whig party—Letters from Mrs. Wilson on
the struggle—Letters to Rev. J. Fleming and Mrs. Grant of Laggan for a
Certificate as to Character—Mrs. Grant’s reply—Letter from Sir Walter
Scott—His Election—Letter from Mrs. Wilson on her husband’s
success—Letter to Mr. Smith—Preparations for his Lectures—Correspondence
with Dr. Blair—A Fancy Sketch of the new Professor in his
Study—Correspondence with Blair—Opening Lecture of his First Course.
Chapter X. The Professor and His Class.
His Syllabus—The Professor in his Sporting Jacket—Adventure in Hawick—"A
little Mill”— Makes two Students at home in Ann Street—The Professor and
his “ Children” at St. Mary’s Loch—Mr. Hill Burton’s Reminiscences of
the winter of 1830—A Market-day atTarland—A kind Teacher—A Dinner at
Gloucester Place—His Class—Saturday—A Snow-ball Riot—Any Old
Clothes?—“Sir Peter Nimmo” and the poet Wordsworth—Dr. Syntax—A
“Conservative” Meeting—Politics in the Class—Rev. Mr. Smith’s
Recollections of 183T—As a Lecturer—His Course for
1837-1838—Illustration, the Love of Power—His Power as an Ora tor—“The
Demosthenes of Ireland”—An Episode in the Class-room—His Care and
Industry in Examining the Students’ Essays—His Kindness to them
privately—The Session for 1850-1851—Mr. A. Taylor Innes— “Professor
Wilson’s Gold Medal”—The Origin of the Moral Faculty—His Appearance in
the Class-room—An Unmannerly Student.
Chapter XI. Literary and Domestic Life. 1820-26.
Lays from Fairy Land—Devotion to the Magazine, and Friendship for Mr.
Blackwood—Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life—A Summer in Elleray once
more—Letter from Mr. Blackwood— Letter from Mr. Lockhart on Mr. Leigh
Hunt—The Gormandizing School of Eloquence—Miss Edgeworth, etc., etc.—TomPurdie—Willie
Laidlaw, etc.—Letters from Mr. Blackwood regarding the Magazine—Another
Summer at Elleray—Letter from Mr. Blackwood—Letters from Mr.
Lockhart—The People he met in London—Edward Irving’s Preaching
described—Party Politics —Literary Gossip—Old Slop and the New Times—A
Daily Paper at the Breakfast-table, etc.— Letter from De Quincey—Hill on
Education—The “Breeches” Review—“ A Confession”—Accident to Mrs.
Wilson—Letter to Mr. R. Findlay—Death of Mrs. Wilson, Senior—Letter from
Principal Baird—Removal to Gloucester Place—The Proposed Chair of
Political Economy— Letters from Mr. Patrick Robertson, Mr. Huskisson,
Mr. Canning, and Sir Robert Peel on the Subject—Literary work—Projected
“ Outlines”—Correspondence of Mr. Lockhart and Mr. Wilson on
“Janus”—Letters from Mr. Lockhart on Sir Walter’s visit to Elleray—Letter
from Professor Jameson—Letter from Mr. Lockhart on Canning—W. Maginn—Letter
from Mr. Blackwood—Letter to Delta on “Janus”—Illness of Mrs.
Wilson—Letter from Mr. Lockhart, on becoming Editor of the Quarterly
Review—Work during 1826—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from Kendal—Colonsay.
Chapter XII. Literary and Domestic Life. 1827—29.
As a Friendly Critic—Letter to Delta—Views on Free Trade—“Mansie Waugh,”
etc.—Notes to Mr. Ballantyne—Innerleithen—Letter to Mr. Fleming, Rayrig,
on “Christopher North,” etc.— Letters to Mrs. Wilson—Hartley
Coleridge—Contributions for 1828—Letters from Allan Cunningham,
regarding “The Anniversary,” “Edderline’s Dream,” etc.—Mrs. Wilson to
Miss Penny —“Evening at Furness Abbey”—Letter from James Hogg, declining
an invitation to Elleray— Letter to Mr. Fleming—Letter from Thomas
Carlyle—Letter from Mr. Lockhart—Contest for Oxford University,
1829—Letter to De Quincey, on his Sketch of the Professor—Thomas De
Quincey—Affection for him—His visit to Gloucester Place.
Chapter XIII. Literary and Domestic Life. Cruise with the Experimental
Home Life in Gloucester Place—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from Penny Bridge
and Westmoreland— Homeric Papers—Letter from Sotheby—Letter from Miss
Watson—A Conservative Meeting and Liberal Commentary—Criticism on
Tennyson—Letter to Mrs. Wilson on bis Cruise with the Experimental
Squadron—London—Greenwich—H. M. S. the “Vernon”—Sheerness—On hoard the
“Vernon”—A Sailor’s Death at Sea—Plymouth—The “Campeadora”—The “Vernon”
-Holystoning—Off the Lizard—Land’s End—Cork—London and Home.
Chapter XIV. Literary and Domestic Life. 1832-37.
Letter from an Author to a Critic—Political Feeling—Paper on Ebenezer
Elliot, and Letter from him—“ Come and break a ton” of iron—Letter from
Mr. Audubon—From Rev. James White of Bonchurch—Letters to James
Hogg—“The Shepherd’s Reconciliation”—An Autumn in Ettrick—Royer and the
Witch—Pets—A Dog Fight—Thirlstane Castle—Letters to Mrs. Wilson from
Edinburgh—Mr. Blackwood’s Illness and Death—Letters from the Clyde to
Mrs. Wilson-Public Dinner at Paisley—Last Letter from Mrs. Wilson to her
Sister—Illness and Death of Mrs. Wilson.
Chapter XV. Literary and Domestic Life. 1837-44.
Depression of Spirits—Life at Roslin—Marriage of his Daughters—His main
work that of a Teacher—His little ways at Home—Pets—The Sparrow—His
Dogs: Bronte—Tory—Grog— Game Birds—A new Coop—A Note to Delta on the
Dispersion of his Aviary—Work for the Year—Letters to Mr. Aird on
Burns—Had Burns Family Worship at Dumfries?—The Professor’s
Study—Writing for Blackwood—Habits of Composition—Letter to Mr. Findlay
from Rothesay—Cladich—A Fairy’s Funeral—Letter to his Daughter
describing Billholm—Review of Macaulay’s Lays—Letter to Dr. Moir.
Chapter XVI. Literary and Domestic Life. 1844-48.
Characteristic Letters from John Gibson Lockhart—The Kemp Absurdity—Maga—Novel
Reading, etc.—Letter to his son John on Domestic matters—“The Kemn
Affair”—Walking Feats— The Burns Festival—Letter to Sheriff
Gordon—Letters from Sergeant Talfourd, excusing himself from attendance
at the “Festival”—Letter to Aird—Letter to his daughter Jane—Fishing in
the Dochart—Letter to his daughter Jane—Maga Articles resumed in
1845—British Critics— Elleray—Letter to Sheriff Gordon, asking him to
edit an Article of his for Black wood—Opening of Edinburgh Philosophical
Institution, of which he was elected President—Melancholy
Reflections—Letter to Mr. Findlay requesting his presence at the
Marriage of his son John—Visit to the newly Married Pair—Resolves not to
return to Elleray—Weakness in the Hand, writes consequently with
difficulty—Byron’s “ Address to the Ocean”—Peculiarities of Dress—Still
in Mourning for his Wife— A Street Scene—A Carter defeated—Humanity to
Animals—Visits to London—Sitting for a Portrait—Conversational
Powers—Reminiscences of Social Meetings— Jeffrey’s Receptions—Lord
Robertson—The Professor’s Songs—Sailor’s Life at Sea—Auld Lang Syne—“A
Chapter XVII. Closing Years 1849—54
"Dies Boreales”—Rituals of the Church—The Scottish Service—Marriage of
his youngest daughter to Professor Aytoun—Playful ways—Toilet
peculiarities—His Watch—Hat—Snuff-box— Gloves, etc., etc.—Horror of
Gas—Love of Children—Letter to his second son Blair, mentioning
“Billy’s" Death—Letter to his son Blair—The “ Dear Doctor11—From College
Duties on account of 111 Health—Illness—Desire to return to his
Labors—Excursion to the Highlands in search of Health—Passion for
Angling—Visit to his Brother at Woodburn—Determines to retire from
Active Life—Letter from the Lord Advocate to Sheriff Gordon, conveying
the news of the Grant of a Pension of £300 per annum—Letter from Lord
John Eussell to the Lord Advocate, desiring him to have the Queen’s
intentions mentioned to Wilson—Receives the News—Letter of
Acknowledgment to Lord John Russell—Takes up his abode at Woodburn—Last
Papers for Magazine—Step feeble and unsteady—Letter to his son Blair,
thanking him for supplies of Books— Macaulay a Candidate for the
Representation of Edinburgh—Comes to Edinburgh and Votes for
Macaulay—Letter from Macaulay to Sheriff Gordon, expressing his kindly
feelings towards the Professor—Last Visit of Mr. Lockhart—Letter to
Robert Findlay, congratulating him on the Marriage of his Son—At
Gloucester Place again—The Last Christmas—Seized with a Shock of
Paralysis—Rapid Decline—The End.
Appendix I. Public Funeral and Proposed Statue
Appendix II. Correspondence relating to Janus
Appendix III. List of Professor Wilson’s Contributions to Blackwood's
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 1
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 2
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 3
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 4
The Noctes Ambrosianae Vol 5
Recreations of Christopher North in 3 volumes