Riddell, Robert (DNB00)

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RIDDELL, ROBERT (d. 1794), antiquary and patron of Burns, was son of Walter Riddell of Newhouse, who was taken prisoner in 1745 by the Jacobites and died in 1788. He traced his father's descent from Gervase de Riddel, who accompanied David I from England and was made sheriff of Roxburghshire. His mother, Anne, was daughter and heiress of Robert Riddell of Glenriddell, Dumfriesshire (1700–1771), to whose estate he ultimately succeeded. ‘Robert of Glenriddell’ became captain in the 32nd (Cornwall) regiment of foot in Ireland, 17 Nov. 1780, and on 31 Oct. 1792 joined the 12th (Prince of Wales's) regiment of light dragoons (Army Lists, 1781 and 1793). But much of his life was passed in antiquarian and literary pursuits at Friars Carse, on his estate in Dumfriesshire. He published various papers in volumes ix. and x. of ‘Archæologia,’ including ‘An Account of the Ancient Lordship of Galloway,’ ‘Remarks on the Title of Thane and Abthane,’ ‘Of the Ancient Modes of Fortification in Scotland,’ and ‘Notices of Fonts in Scotland.’ He was a fellow of the Societies of Antiquaries both of London and Edinburgh, and a member of the Philosophical Society of Manchester. His description of Nithsdale, with drawings, &c., was presented to the Society of Antiquaries in 1793; and volume iv. of the ‘Memoirs’ of the Manchester society contains his dissertations on the ancient carved stones in Scotland and on one in Dumfriesshire. Riddell gave much help to Francis Grose [q. v.], who visited him at Friars Carse in 1789, and he corresponded with Richard Gough [q. v.] John Nichols [q. v.] had a large collection of his letters. Riddell was granted the degree of LL.D. at Edinburgh in 1794 (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, vi. 304, viii. 475).

But Riddell, ‘the trusty Glenriddell, so versed in old coins,’ is remembered chiefly as the friend of Robert Burns. Friars Carse was within a mile of Burns's farm of Ellisland, and Riddell gave the poet a key to the grounds. In a little hermitage there Burns wrote the ‘Verses in Friars Carse Hermitage’ (1788), and the song ‘The day returns’ in celebration of the anniversary of the Riddells’ wedding day (7 Nov. 1788). The friends were in the habit of exchanging rhyming notes, and in 1789 Burns undertook to prepare for Riddell a manuscript collection of fugitive verses and scraps. The volume containing this collection was subsequently returned to the poet by Riddell's widow. On 16 Oct. 1789 a great drinking bout was held at Friars Carse, when Riddell contested for an historical whistle with Sir Robert Laurie and Alexander Ferguson of Craigdarroch, both of whom were connections of his (Burke, Peerage). Ferguson was the victor, as Burns describes in ‘The Whistle.’ Riddell composed airs to several of Burns's songs, including ‘The Whistle,’ ‘The Banks of Nith,’ ‘The Blue-eyed Lassie,’ and ‘The day returns;’ and Burns assisted Riddell in founding a parish circulating library at Friars Carse (Sir J. Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland, 1792, iii. 597–600, letter from Riddell forwarding a letter from Burns).

By 1792 Burns was on very friendly terms with Riddell's brother, Walter Riddell of Woodley Park, four miles south of Dumfries, who had married, in 1791, Maria Woodley, daughter of William Woodley, governor of St. Kitts and the Leeward Islands. The lady was only nineteen, but had a taste for literature, and was anxious to publish an account of her own voyages. Burns gave her a letter of introduction to a printer, and proceeded, according to his wont, to write love songs about her (‘The last time I came o'er the moor,’ &c.) Early in 1794, at an entertainment held at Walter Riddell's house to celebrate his return from a voyage to the West Indies, Burns insulted his hostess. Burns's apology was rejected by the lady and her husband, and he attacked Mrs. Riddell in the ‘Monody on a Lady famed for her Caprice,’ and other verses. By 1795 the poet was again on friendly terms with Walter Riddell's wife. When Burns died in 1796 she published in the ‘Dumfries Journal’ an admirable article on her friend's character, a defence which reflects credit on both the writer and her subject.

Meanwhile the Riddells of Glenriddell sided with their relatives in their quarrel with Burns, and Robert Riddell died at Friars Carse on 21 April 1794 without any reconciliation taking place; but Burns at once published a sonnet on his late friend (‘No more, ye warblers of the wood, no more’). Riddell left most of his property to his widow (Elizabeth Kennedy). Glenriddell passed to his brother Walter. Riddell's library of books on antiquities was sold by Robert Ross in 1795 (Nichols, Lit. Anecdotes, iii. 693); they included a manuscript ‘Collection of Scottish Antiquities,’ containing journals of tours made with Grose, illustrated with watercolours by Riddell. There were also manuscript collections of Scottish ballads, and glossaries and notes of families and peerages (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. vii. 201). In May 1794, soon after his death, Riddell's posthumous volume, ‘A Collection of Scots, Galwegian, and Border Tunes,’ was published at Edinburgh.

[Burns's Works, ed. Scott Douglas, 1891, vols. ii. iii. v. vi.; Rev. Charles Rogers's Book of Robert Burns, 1889, ii. 169, 185; Gent. Mag. 1794, i. 481; Burke's Peerage, s.v. ‘Riddell;’ W. P. Riddell's The Riddell Family.]

G. A. A.