Gillies, Robert Pearse (DNB00)
|←Gillies, Margaret||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 21
Gillies, Robert Pearse
GILLIES, ROBERT PEARSE (1788–1858), autobiographer, a member of the Forfarshire family of Gillies, was born at or near Arbroath in 1788. His father, Dr. Thomas Gillies, was possessed of a landed estate, which on his death in 1808 his son inherited. Gillies had already collected a library of books, written poetry, and studied under Dugald Stewart and Playfair at the university of Edinburgh. He was admitted advocate in 1813, and, losing most of his fortune in consequence of a rash speculation, settled in Edinburgh in 1815, where he devoted himself to literary pursuits. He was one of the early contributors to ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ and figures as ‘Kemperhausen’ in Christopher North's ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ.’ He was a well-known figure among the literary men who frequented the Ballantynes, and was a special friend of Scott. Reminiscences of his intercourse with Scott were published by Gillies in 1837. Like Scott, Gillies was attracted for some time by the literature of Germany, from which he made many translations, published for the most part in ‘Blackwood's Magazine.’ He resided in Germany for a year, and met Goethe and Tieck. Gillies also corresponded with Wordsworth, who encouraged him in his early pecuniary difficulties in a sonnet (Miscellaneous Sonnets, pt. ii. no. 4), commencing—
From the dark chambers of dejection freed,
Spurning the unprofitable yoke of care,
Rise, Gillies, rise: the gates of youth shall bear
Thy genius forward like a wingèd steed.
Gillies likewise attracted the attention of Byron, who in his ‘Diary’ (23 Nov. 1813) remarks on his work: ‘The young man can know nothing of life; and if he cherishes the disposition which runs through his papers will become useless and perhaps not even a poet, which he seems determined to be. God help him! No one should be a rhymer who could be anything else.’
Most of Gillies's remaining means disappeared in the commercial panic of 1825, and he became involved in a series of lawsuits. Scott assisted him in various ways, and finally suggested to him the idea of a journal of foreign literature. Gillies succeeded in inducing the London firm of Treuttel & Würtz, Treuttel, junr., & Richter to take up the project, and the result was the foundation of the ‘Foreign Quarterly Review’ in July 1827. Gillies as editor was to receive 600l. per annum, but he was to pay the contributors out of this. To the first number articles were contributed by Sir W. Scott (who declined to receive remuneration for his work), Robert Southey, the Rev. G. R. Gleig, W. Maginn, and others.
Gillies now removed to London, where he led a somewhat chequered life. His affairs remained hopelessly involved, and when about 1833 he passed a whole year without being arrested for debt, the fact seemed to him remarkable. In 1840 he removed to Boulogne, where he remained till 1847, when incautiously returning to England, he was at once thrown into prison, and was not liberated till 1849.
Gillies died at Kensington, 28 Nov. 1858. He was married and had a family. He turned to account his acquaintance with famous men in his ‘Memoirs of a Literary Veteran’ (3 vols., 1851), where he gives personal reminiscences of many. Among the most notable besides Scott were James Hogg, Lord Jeffrey, Thomas de Quincey, John Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, and John Galt. Selections from this work with a biography were edited by Richard Henry Stoddard, as the tenth volume of the ‘Bric à Brac Series,’ New York, 1876.
Gillies's other works consisted, besides fugitive contributions, of the following: 1. ‘Wallace, a fragment,’ 1813. 2. ‘Childe Alarique, a poet's reverie, with other poems,’ 1814. 3. An edition of James the First's ‘Essays of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie,’ 1814. 4. ‘Confessions of Sir H. Longueville,’ a novel, 1814. 5. ‘Rinaldo, the Visionary, a Desultory Poem,’ 1816. 6. ‘Illustrations of a Poetical Character, in six tales, with other poems’ (2nd edit. 1816). 7. ‘Oswald, a metrical tale,’ 1817. 8. ‘Guilt, or the Anniversary,’ a tragedy from the German of A. G. A. Muellner, 1819. 9. Extempore, to Walter Scott, Esq., on the publication of the new edition of the ‘Bridal of Triermain’ (1819, by ‘S. K. C.,’ probably by Gillies. When the ‘Bridal’ was first published, Scott encouraged the idea [Lockhart, p. 236] that Gillies was the author). 10. ‘German Stories, selected from the works of Hoffmann, De la Motte-Fouqué, Pichler, Kruse, and others,’ 3 vols. 1826. 11. ‘A Winter Night's Dream.’ 12. ‘The Seventh Day,’ 1826. 13. ‘Tales of a Voyager to the Arctic Ocean,’ 6 vols., two series, 1826 and 1829. 14. ‘Ranulph de Rohais: a Romance of the Twelfth Century,’ 3 vols. 1830, 8vo. 15. ‘Thurlston Tales,’ 3 vols. 1835. 16. ‘Palmario,’ 1839.[Memoirs above referred to; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Wordsworth's Poems; Dictionary of Living Authors, 1816.]