"Έν σκοτίᾳ ΣΚΟΤΟΣ ἔπετο καὶ φῶς ἥκε φάοσδε,
—which may be roughly traduced for the nonce:—
"In Scotland there was Scott, and a man emerged to day;
Here we have John Galt, one of the Anakim of our "Gallery," for he stood some six feet three, with, as Maginn says, "a stoop in his shoulders." The same authority vouches for the likeness of the face; but adds apologetically:—"we think that our Rembrandt has evinced a Dutchmanlike liberality in the article of trousers; we do not believe that Gait procures his pantaloons from the most scientific of Schneiders, but unless the garment in which he is represented be one which he has brought with him ready manufactured by the axe or the saw of a Canadian backwoodsman, we know not where else he could have seduced a carpenter to have fashioned anything like the nether integument in which he is here depicted." To this testimony as to fidelity of resemblance, may be added that of another competent authority. "The likeness of John Gait," says an able writer in The Hour (Nov. 12, 1873), "is one of the most successful- in the volume. He was tall and comely, with gentlemanlike and unassuming manners. There was nothing whatever about him indicative of the dry and 'pawky' humour which breathes in every page of his best novels, or of the amazing vanity which led him to imagine himself a great writer of tragedies."
So much for the outward man. For the rest, John Gait was born at Irvine in Ayrshire, May 2, 1779. His father, the captain of a West India merchantman, obtained for his son a berth in the Custom-house of Greenock, and later, a place, as clerk, with a mercantile firm. By and by, the young man gravitated to London, where he purposed to establish himself as a merchant. Meantime, in the years 1803-4, he published in the Scots' Magazine portions of a poem in octo-syllabic verse, entitled "The Battle of Largs," on the score of which, as having preceded the metrical romances of Sir Walter Scott, he was wont in after life to assume no small credit. History and Political Economy also engaged his attention; so that disagreement with his partners, pecuniary embarrassment, and final bankruptcy, seem a natural sequence. Gait now determined to abandon commerce, and entered himself at Lincoln's Inn with a view of being called to the Bar; but wishing to see the world, and improve his health, before he settled down, he determined to spend some time abroad, and left England in 1809.
He remained on the Continent nearly three years; later on, describing his peregrinations in his Voyages and Travels in the Years 1809, 1810, 1811, etc. (1812, 4to), and Letters from the Levant, etc. (1813, 8vo).
While abroad, he became acquainted with Byron, whose biographer he was afterwards to become; and subsequently called upon him in
- "Largs where the Scotch gave the Northmen a drilling."—Sir Walter Scott.