The History of Leith

November 25, 2011

John Home, Patriot, Minister, Dramatist-Part 4

The appearance of a Scottish author whose love of praise had got the better of his discretion ruined his own chances of popularity! It was indeed a Fatal Discovery in more senses than one ! The preacher of this evening has known of Douglas from early childhood. His father, no more a theatre goer than he is himself, loved to quote the lines :
” My name is Norval. On the Grampian Hills
My father feeds his flock, a frugal swain.
His constant care was to increase his store
And keep his only son myself at home.
But I had heard of battles, and I longed
To follow to the field some warlike lord,
And heaven soon granted what my sire denied.”
As compared with the elaborate intricacy of the plot of so many of Shakespeare’s plays there is a simplicity about Douglas, including a much smaller range of characters, which might attract the modern mind, if the play were to be revived. The reader is carried on with a ” rush ” such as captures you in a good story. The formality of the stilted language of the period is no more wearisome than the rich pictures which Shakespeare compresses into a phrase, entangling the imagination. The villain Glenalvon is easier to follow through his maze of intrigue, than lago is in the tortuous labyrinth which the poet causes him to construct for his victims. In Norval and old Norval, in Lord and Lady Randolph, when all deductions are made, there are sketched for xis characters revealing the heights and depths, the fervours and nobilities, of virtue. It is baffling to think that our forefathers could find fault with the play. If a formal movement fof the purifying of the stage
could have been inaugurated in the eighteenth century, Douglas might well have been chosen as a worthy weapon. John Home did not lose anything in the worldly sense by giving up the Church. First of all he had a brief pension from the Dowager Princess of Wales, which was soon exchanged for one of £300 a year—worth nearly three times that sum to-day—from her son George III. This was soon followed by his appointment to the sinecure office of Conservator of the Privileges of Campvere, then a derelict Scots settlement in Holland. He had a second £300 for this nominal position. Besides,he acted as secretary to Lord Bute when he was Prime Minister. If these things came to him easily, he was well known as a warm friend to all aspiring Scots in the Metropolis. His plays
also enriched him, so that he was able, about 1770, to build the mansionhouse of Kilduff on the borders of his old parish. It was then that he married the daughter of the minister of Polwarth. They had no family. Though she was never very robust, like many invalids she lived longer even than her long-lived husband. Here, as afterwards at Hanover Street, Edinburgh, he dispensed a continuous and a lavish hospitality to a large circle of friends, which is amusingly described by Sir Walter Scott, who knew Home well when he was a young man, in his review of Home’s Life written by Henry
Mackenzie, the ” Man of Feeling.” The only work which he seems to have accomplished in these long years of lessening vitality—he lived to be nearly eighty-six—was a History of the Rebellion of 1745. Had he been a disciple of his friends Hume and Robertson, he might have written the authoritative history of the period. In addition, the story by an eyewitness and participant might have been fascinating. But by his unwillingness to say anything which might offend the Royal Family—the Duke of Cumberland was the King’s uncle—he turned his book into a tame and formal story, unless
in the parts vivified by his own personal experience. Friendship entailed no effort on Home’s part. His nature was open, genial, with difficulty thinking evil of any one. He lived among his literary friends, not only in Scotland, but also in England. A rapid survey of some of these may be interesting. A friend in the regiment who escaped with him from Doune Castle belonged to Winchester, where Home visited him when on one of his early visits to England. By him Home was introduced to Collins, who afterwards dedicated to him his celebrated Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands. Gray has already been mentioned. Samuel Johnson must often have met him in company with Boswell. Perhaps there was a spice of envy in the old literary dictator, arising from his inability to handle patrons— in this a bad second to Home—which led him to pass this summary verdict on Douglas—
” There are not ten good lines in the whole play.” But a play, like a speech, may be powerful although it has no good phrases.

Source-South Leith Records

Some Text