Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Home, John
HOME, JOHN (1722–1808), author of ‘Douglas,’ was born on 21 Sept. 1722, at Leith, the port of Edinburgh. His father, who was distantly connected with the earls of Home, was town-clerk of Leith. John was educated at the grammar school of Leith, and, with a view to the church, at the university of Edinburgh. He is described in his youth as handsome and lively, and was popular with his companions, among whom were Robertson, afterwards the historian, Adam Ferguson, and Alexander Carlyle. By the presbytery of Edinburgh he was licensed a probationer of the kirk in 1745, the year of the rebellion. On the approach of the rebel army Home enlisted in the college company of volunteers formed for the defence of Edinburgh. When the surrender of the city was decided on, he and a few companions made their way to Dunbar, where Sir John Cope gave them a reconnoitring mission, which came to an end with the battle of Prestonpans. Home next joined a regiment of volunteers raised by the town of Glasgow, in which he held the rank of lieutenant, and with which he was present at the battle of Falkirk (17 Jan. 1746). With some of his comrades he was taken prisoner and confined in Doune Castle, but under his leadership the whole party effected a daring escape. On 11 Feb. 1747 he was inducted minister of Athelstaneford in East Lothian, in succession to Robert Blair [q. v.], author of ‘The Grave.’ Home did not live at the manse (New Statistical Account, &c.), but in the village, and was often absent on visits to friends, at whose houses his lively manners made him always a welcome guest. As a minister he joined the broad church party, of which his friend Robertson became the leader, and he formed a close intimacy with David Hume the philosopher [q. v.], who belonged to the same family as himself.
Soon after his settlement at Athelstaneford, Home completed his tragedy of ‘Agis,’ founded on the life of Agis in Plutarch, one of his favourite authors. He took it to London towards the close of 1747, and offered it to Garrick, who summarily rejected it. Home expressed his disappointment in a plaintive apostrophe (in verse) to Shakespeare's statue in Westminster Abbey. Hume thought that ‘Agis’ showed Home's taste to have been ‘corrupted by the imitation of Shakespeare,’ but (according to Hume) it was ‘much approved’ by Pitt, Lyttelton, and the Duke of Argyll (Burton, i. 392). Before returning to Scotland Home paid a short visit at Winchester to a friend, Barrow, who had escaped with him from Doune Castle. The poet Collins was another guest, and Collins inscribed to him in friendly terms, with a prediction of his ultimate success in tragedy, his ‘Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland,’ some of his knowledge of which he doubtless owed to Home's conversation [see Collins, William].
After his return to Scotland, Home was introduced by Lord Milton [see Fletcher, Andrew, Lord Milton] to Archibald Campbell, duke of Argyll, through whom he came to know the Earl of Bute. Bute treated him with every consideration. Meanwhile Home was engaged on his tragedy of ‘Douglas,’ founded partly on the then popular Scottish ballad of ‘Childe Maurice,’ the ‘Gil Morris’ of Percy's ‘Reliques.’ Hume thought highly of the drama, like other Edinburgh friends who read and revised it in manuscript. Again, in February 1755, Home travelled to London on horseback, and offered his tragedy to Garrick, who refused it. Home's Scottish friends advised its performance in Edinburgh. It was accordingly put in rehearsal at the theatre in the Canongate, which although unlicensed was tolerated, and had a fairly good company of performers. The rehearsals were attended by many distinguished persons; but the statement that at one of them the parts were performed by Robertson, Blair, Home himself, Hume, and other celebrities seems to be apocryphal. The first public performance took place on 14 Dec. 1756. The piece was received with enthusiasm, and had a long and successful run. But the ruling party in the kirk regarded the enterprise as an outrage. They were opposed on principle to theatrical representations, and that ‘Douglas’ should have been written by a minister, and its performance attended by other ministers, seemed to them serious aggravations of the offence. Portions of the play were denounced, too, as profane. A war of pamphlets ensued. Alexander Carlyle [q. v.], one of the ministers who attended the performance, was prosecuted by the kirk. Home himself was cited to appear before the presbytery of Haddington, but delayed obeying the summons.
In February 1757 he went to London, and on 14 March Rich produced ‘Douglas’ at Covent Garden, Barry playing Young Norval, and Peg Woffington Lady Randolph. Its success was decided, and it was published. Gray said that it had ‘retrieved the true language of the stage, which had been lost for two hundred years.’ Hume described it in the ‘dedicatory preface’ of his ‘Four Dissertations’ addressed to Home (1757) as ‘one of the most interesting and pathetic pieces that was ever exhibited in any theatre,’ and he credited Home with ‘the true theatric genius of Shakespeare and Otway, refined from the unhappy barbarism of the one and licentiousness of the other’ (Hume, Philosophical Works, ed. Grose and Green, iii. 66). Sheridan, father of the wit and politician, and then manager of the Dublin Theatre Royal, sent Home, as the author of ‘Douglas,’ a gold medal of some value, but Johnson angrily declared that there were not ‘ten good lines in the whole play’ (Boswell, Johnson, ed. 1848, p. 390). While in England Home paid a visit to Bute at Kew, where he was well received, and was probably introduced to the Princess of Wales, Augusta, mother of George III. ‘The Princess,’ according to Horace Walpole, writing 27 May 1757, ‘gave Home 100l. a year’ (Letters, ed. Cunningham, iii. 78). On Home's return to Scotland the proceedings against him were resumed by the presbytery, but were cut short by his resignation of his charge on 7 June 1757, two days after he had preached at Athelstaneford a farewell sermon, which ‘drew tears from many of his people’ (Postscript to Scots Magazine, 1757, p. 274). In 1770, when he built himself a house not far from Athelstaneford, his former parishioners brought the stones for the building, and would not accept any payment (Mackenzie, i. 34).
Soon after his resignation Home was appointed private secretary to Lord Bute, and became tutor of the Prince of Wales, afterwards George III. In this position he had no difficulty in procuring Garrick's acceptance of the previously rejected ‘Agis.’ Garrick brought it out, and played a principal part in it at Drury Lane on 21 Feb. 1758. Good acting and powerful influence kept it for some time on the stage (Genest, iv. 515). It brought the author from 500l. to 600l. (Nichols, Illustr. Lit. vii. 249). Bute took the Prince of Wales twice to see it. But Gray wrote contemptuously of it, and lamented its marked inferiority to ‘Douglas.’ In the same year Home met at Moffat James Macpherson, and, delighted with his Ossianic fragments, encouraged him to make further discoveries of a like kind. Macpherson left Home in his will 2,000l. (Biog. Dram. i. 362). On 21 Feb. 1760 Home's ‘Siege of Aquileia’ was produced at Drury Lane by Garrick, who played in it and had great hopes of its success, but in that he was disappointed. In the following July Voltaire's ‘L'Écossaise’ was produced at the Théâtre Français, and, in one of his freaks of pseudonymity, Voltaire alleged that it was a translation from the English of ‘M. Home, pastor of the church of Edinburgh, already known by two fine tragedies produced at Edinburgh.’ It does not appear that Home took any notice, or was even aware of, this attempt at mystification.
In 1760, too, Home published his three tragedies in a volume dedicated to the Prince of Wales, who on ascending the throne in the same year gave him a pension of 300l. a year from his privy purse. At the instance of his friends Bute procured for him in 1763 the sinecure office of conservator of Scots privileges at Campvere in Holland, with a salary of another 300l. a year. As its accredited representative at Campvere, Home acquired ex officio a seat in the general assembly of the kirk which he went from London regularly to attend, speaking occasionally in support of the church policy of his friend Dr. Robertson. When Bute resigned the premiership, Home ceased to be his secretary, but they still maintained friendly relations. On 23 Feb. 1769, Garrick produced at Drury Lane Home's ‘Fatal Discovery,’ the characters in which were Ossianic or Erse. The prejudice in London against Bute and the Scotch was still so strong that Garrick induced Home to conceal his authorship of it, and an Oxford student attended the rehearsals as its author. But Home did not allow the secret to be kept, and after the drama had been played for eleven nights with indifferent success, Garrick was compelled to withdraw it.
In the year of his marriage (1770) he acquired on a long lease the farm of Kilduff in East Lothian, and built the mansion in which he generally resided for ten or twelve years. On 27 Jan. 1773 his tragedy ‘Alonzo’ was produced by Garrick at Drury Lane, and, thanks to the acting of Mrs. Barry, ran for eleven nights, and achieved a greater success than any of his dramas, excepting ‘Douglas.’ Horace Walpole (Letters, v. 448) dismisses it contemptuously as ‘the story of David and Goliath worse told than it would have been if Sternhold and Hopkins had put it into metre.’
In April 1776 Home, then in London, started in the company of Adam Smith for Edinburgh to see Hume, whose health was failing. They unexpectedly met Hume at Morpeth, on his way to London, and Home accompanied the invalid to Bath. Home recorded in a diary Hume's sayings and doings during these journeys (printed by Mackenzie, i. 168–82, and in Burton's Hume, ii. 495, 504). Probably during his visit to Bath Walter Scott, then a boy, was introduced to Home (Lockhart, Scott, ed. 1850, p. 7). Scott was afterwards a frequent guest at his villa near Edinburgh (ib. p. 38). In July Home accompanied Hume back to Edinburgh, and the latter, before dying in August 1776, added to his will the codicil leaving to Home ‘ten dozen of my old claret at his choice, and a single bottle of that other liquor called port.’ ‘I also leave to him,’ Hume proceeds, ‘six dozen of port, provided that he attests under his hand, signed John Home, that he has himself alone finished that bottle at two sittings. By this concession he will at once terminate the only two differences that ever arose between us concerning temporal matters.’ David preferred port to claret, John claret to port. When a high duty on French wine was enforced in Scotland, Home expressed his disgust in a well-known epigram condemning port as poison.
On 21 Jan. 1778 appeared, and signally failed, the last of Home's acted dramas, ‘Alfred.’ In the same year he indulged his old military tastes by entering the South fusiliers, a regiment raised by Henry, duke of Buccleuch. Even after more than one fall from his horse, which did some permanent injury to his brain, it was with difficulty that his friends persuaded him to abandon soldiering. In 1779 he left Kilduff and settled in Edinburgh, where he was received with veneration, and he liberally entertained the surviving friends of his youth. Scott has given a pleasing account of his hospitalities (Misc. Works, i. 835–6). In 1802 appeared his last work, ‘The History of the Rebellion of 1745,’ dedicated by permission to the king. He had originally intended it for posthumous publication, but he modified its tone, to its disadvantage from every point of view, in order to fit it for publication in his lifetime and for acceptance by George III. The cruelties of the Duke of Cumberland after Culloden, for instance, are omitted, but the work has some historical value as a record of Home's personal experiences. He died in his eighty-sixth year, 5 Sept. 1808, at Merchiston, near Edinburgh, after some years of much bodily and mental infirmity.
In 1770 Home made a happy, although childless, marriage with Mary, daughter of William Home, minister of Foggo from 1758 to 1785 (Hew Scott, Fash. Eccl. Scot. pt. ii. 415). The lady was not personally attractive. Hume is said to have asked him ‘how he could ever think of such a woman,’ and to have received the reply, ‘Ah! David, if I had not, who else would have taken her?’ (Hume's Letters, p. 321).
Home's collected works were published in 1822, edited with a memoir by Henry Mackenzie, author of ‘The Man of Feeling.’ The collection omits some minor pieces printed in vol. ii. of ‘Original Poems by Scottish Gentlemen,’ 1762, as well as a ‘letter by A. T., Blacksmith’ on the public worship of the church of Scotland (London, 1759; 2nd edition, Edinburgh, 1826), which has been doubtfully ascribed to Home. A portrait by Raeburn is in the National Portrait Gallery.
[Home's Works with Henry Mackenzie's memoir; Scott's Miscellaneous Prose Works, 1841, vol. i., ‘Life and Works of John Home;’ Life in Encycl. Brit., 9th edition; Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen; Burton's Life of David Hume, 1846; Letters of David Hume to Strachan, 1888; Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle, 1860; New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845 vol. ii., ‘Haddingtonshire;’ Sir Walter Scott's Journal, ed. Douglas, 1890, i. 372, 384; authorities cited.]