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and Southey—when some burglars had made a nocturnal raid on his parsonage: —
"They came and prigg'd my linen, my stockings and my store,
—according to which, if I avail myself of a senna, where I find it, ready to my hand, I shall be at least allowed to retain my plunder in tranquillity.
"What can be said of Professor Wilson worthy of his various merits? Nothing. Were we to reprint Lockhart's graphic account of him in Peter's Letters, it would not tell half his fame. A poet, who, having had the calamity of obtaining Oxford prizes, and incurred the misfortune of having been praised by the Edinburgh Review, for some juvenile indiscretions in the way of rhyme, wrote the City of the Plague, which even the envious Lord Byron placed among the great works of the age, and which all real critics put higher than his poetical Lordship's best productions in the way of tragedy, a moral professor who dings down the fame of Dugald Stewart, a paltry triumph, we own, if truly considered, over a small person, but a trial of no trivial moment, if the voice of Edinburgh be counted of any avail, an orator who, sober or convivial, morning or evening, can pour forth gushes of eloquence the most stirring, and fun the most rejoicing, a novelist who has chosen a somewhat peculiar department, but who, in his Lights and Shadows, etc., gives forth continually fine touches of original thought, and bursts of real pathos, a sixteen stoner who has tried it without the gloves with the game chicken, and got none the worse, a cocker, a racer, a six-bottler, a twenty-four tumblerer, an out and outer, a true, upright, knocking-down, poetical, prosaic, moral, professorial, hard-drinking, fierce-eating, good-looking, honourable, straightforward Tory. Let us not forget that he has leapt twenty-seven feet in a standing leap, on plain ground! Byron never ceased boasting of the petty feat of swimming three or four miles with the tide, as something wondrous. What is it to Wilson's leaping? A gipsy, a magazine, a wit, a six-foot club man, an unflinching ultra in the worst of times!—In what is he not great?"
It is very hard to have to say something about a man of whose genius a great master has proclaimed that nothing worthy can be said. But half a century has passed over this dictum, and given me at least a few facts to place upon record.
John Wilson was born May 19, 1785, at Paisley; a town noted not only for the production of shawls, but as the birth-place of Tannahill, Alexander Wilson, and more than one other Scottish poet; and where Motherwell, if not born, passed his boyhood and youth. He received his earlier education at the University of Glasgow, under such men as Richardson, Jardine, Miller and Young; and proceeded thence to Oxford, where he graduated B.A., 1807; M.A., 1808; gaining the Newdigate prize for poetry in the teeth of three thousand competitors, and the reputation of being the best boxer, the highest leaper, the most ardent cocker, and the fastest runner among his fellow students. He was, moreover, a Radical and Democrat of so advanced a type, that he thought it wrong to employ a servant to black his boots, and was wont to perform that necessary operation himself.Of an inheritance of £40,000, derived from his father, a wealthy manufacturer,—his mother was lineally descended, on the female side