The History of Leith

November 22, 2011

John Home, Patriot, Minister, Dramatist-Part 2

If he loved praise himself, he equally loved to bestow it. It was quizzically said of him by Principal Robertson that he never would believe that his friends were ill until he heard that they were
dead. His friends were something beyond the level of ordinary mortals ! No wonder that he came like a sunbeam into a room, filling all hearts with pleasure ; it was natural that when he withdrew every one began to feel dull. Providence had lent him a gift which the great majority may envy.
He finished the course of studies laid down for the ministry in April 1745. Soon afterwards Prince Charlie raised his standard in the Highlands and swept down on the Capital, which was filled with unwarlike citizens quite unprepared to face his wild clansmen. Volunteers were mustered, among whom John Home naturally found himself. He was, as were his associates, Whigs, sensible of the value of the new policy which came in with William of Orange. They knew by intuition that with a Romanist King there was bound to be a reaction in politics to absolutism, and in religion to Episcopacy. The Presbyterians of that time were near enough the days of Charles II. and James VII. to understand what that meant. When resistance to the occupation of Edinburgh was hopeless, the ardent Home and his friends journeyed out to Dunbar to join Sir John Cope. Tradition has it that they visited every tavern on the way to drink confusion to the Pretender. It is very amusing to read that the battle of Prestonpans was over before they had risen from their beds in the manse hard by, and had to busy themselves as helpers of the sick in order to escape being taken prisoners after that inglorious fight.
Capture, however, came very soon. With some other officers he was seized after the equally disgraceful battle of Falkirk. Imprisoned in Lord Moray’s castle at Doune, he planned a daring escape and carried it out. Weaving a rough rope of bedclothes, they let themselves down from a window. Long afterwards in 1778, Home revived his military ardour, and enlisted in the South Fencibles, a regiment raised by the Duke of Buccleuch. Unfortunately he fell more than once from his horse, and so injured his skull that his brain never was so clear afterwards. He seems to have lost the ambition and the power to produce plays ; even his History of the Rebellion written after that date does not display his erstwhile vigour.

About a year after his early patriotic adventures, he took licence as a preacher, and became minister of Athelstaneford, being presented to that living by Sir John Kinloch of Gilmerton. He did not live at the manse, but at a house in the village, where he was very fond of entertaining his ministerial and literary friends, among them Jupiter Carlyle of Inveresk, and Robertson, who was then minister of Gladsmuir. Robert Blair, the author of The Grave, had preceded him in Athelstaneford. His fame may have turned the attention of Home to poetry, but probably it was that innate mysterious
spring of genius within which turned the current of his life as he read his classics, especially Plutarch’s Lives of famous men in Greece and Rome. Agis, a king of Sparta, was the hero upon whom his romantic fancy fixed.
When at last the drama was finished, he saddled his nag ” Piercy ” and set out for London to interview Garrick, the great actor. He had good introductions with him, for his Edinburgh friends were very influential, among them one to the elder William Pitt. But it was in vain. He had to return home with his play in his pocket. I have read the piece, and think that it has plenty of life, excitement and movement. When once you have the history of Athens and Sparta as a background, you realise fche utter magnanimity of Agis, the difficulties woven by love and friendship which Lysander had to overcome, and the villainy of Amphares. There seems to be a curious likeness among literary villains ; witness Home’s Amphares here, his Glenalvon in Douglas, and Shakespeare’s lago,
the arch villain of literature. In his disappointment Home wandered about Westminster Alrbey. An inspiration seized him at the monument to Shakespeare, and he found mental relief for his distress in these lines :
” Image of Shakespeare ! To this place I come
To ease my bursting bosom at thy tomb.
3?or neither Greek nor Roman poet fired
My fancy first, thee chiefly I admired.
And day and night revolving still my page,
I hoped like thee to shake the British stage.
But cold neglect is now my only meed,
And heavy falls it on so proud a head.
If powers above now listen to my lyre,
Charm them to grant indulgent my desire.
Let petrifaction stop this falling tear,
And fix my form for ever marble here.”
He had then an ambition which might almost be called overweening.

Source-South leith Recoreds

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