Herd, David (DNB00)

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HERD, DAVID (1732–1810), collector of Scottish ballads, was the son of John Herd, farmer, of Balmakelly, in the parish of Marykirk, Kincardineshire, where he was born in 1732. The entry of his baptism in the parish records is dated 23 Oct. of that year. The traditional assumption of biographers that Herd was born in the parish of St. Cyrus, Kincardineshire, probably rests on the fact that the family for a time was resident there. But the original home was in Marykirk, and in the churchyard of the parish the epitaph over Herd's mother, Margaret Low, is still fairly legible. It is surmised that after leaving school Herd served an apprenticeship to a country lawyer. But he was essentially a citizen of Edinburgh, where he was a clerk from early manhood. For many years before his death he was in the service of David Russell, an Edinburgh accountant. His quiet bachelor life admitted of studious leisure, and he was a trusted adviser of Constable, the publisher, and other literary friends. He was popular in society, and as ‘Sir Scrape’ he was for a time president of the somewhat fantastic Cape Club, which was literary as well as convivial in temper and aim, and had many distinguished members (Daniel Wilson, Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time). In 1772, on Herd's initiative, Robert Fergusson was enrolled among the Cape knights, and in his ‘Auld Reikie’ he eulogises the club. Herd sometimes dates his letters from John Dowie's tavern, in Liberton's Wynd, a social resort visited both by Fergusson and Burns. Here the assembled worthies talked, ‘and enjoyed a bottle of ale and a “saut-herring”’ (Note to a letter of Herd's in Letters from Thomas Percy, D.D., afterwards Bishop of Dromore, John Callander of Craigforth, Esq., David Herd, and others, to George Paton, Edinburgh, 1830). When inviting his friend George Paton to meet another friend at tea, Herd adds that they will ‘adjourn together to some strong ale-office in the evening.’ In the same letter he states his intention of comparing Paton's version of ‘Philotus’ with Pinkerton's, ‘in order to advise Mr. Constable which would be the best copy to print it from.’ He died on 25 June 1810, aged 78 (Scots Mag. August 1810). He was buried in Buccleuch parish churchyard, Edinburgh, where the memorial tablet, placed by his friends in the wall opposite his grave, is ruinous from neglect. The inscription was deciphered by Andrew Jervise, who gives it, together with evidence regarding Herd's birth and baptism, in his account of Marykirk (Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1875). Herd's curious library was dispersed by auction, and realised 254l. 19s. 10d. There is a legend that his heir was an illegitimate son, who died an army major (Introduction to the Paton Letters).

Sir Walter Scott and Archibald Constable, who knew Herd well, commend his attainments and editorial skill, and praise the simplicity and uprightness of his character. Scott mentions (Minstrelsy, i. 71) that his striking personal appearance ‘procured him, amongst his acquaintance, the name of Graysteil.’ Constable acknowledges numerous literary obligations to Herd, whom he met ‘not unfrequently in John Dowie's’ (Archibald Constable and his Literary Correspondents, i. 20).

According to the notice in the ‘Scots Magazine’ Herd did much miscellaneous writing, and one of his books—a copy of ‘Hardyknute,’ with manuscript notes by him—is known to have drifted among the booksellers. But his single separate publication is the ‘Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs, Heroic Ballads, &c., collected from Memory, Tradition, and Ancient Authors,’ 2 vols., Edinburgh, 1776. An anonymous collection, in one volume, had appeared in 1769, and in the 1776 preface Herd calls that ‘the first edition of this collection.’ Undoubtedly he was mainly responsible for both, though he may have been assisted by George Paton, who is sometimes credited with a chief share in the volume of 1769. Bishop Percy, writing to Paton, 22 Aug. 1774, expresses a hope that the editor of the coming edition will extract from a projected new selection of ‘Reliques’ ‘in like manner as he did in his first volume.’ In his preface to the 1776 edition Herd says that the demands for the first volume ‘since it has become scarce encouraged the editor to extend and arrange it.’ By its manifest scholarship, discrimination, and good faith the edition of 1776 at once asserted itself. Pinkerton alone criticised it adversely. Others instantly recognised Herd's superiority to Ramsay and previous editors. Ritson (Scottish Songs, vol. i.) acknowledges indebtedness ‘in gratitude;’ Scott, in ‘Border Minstrelsy,’ i. 71, hails the collection as ‘respectable and well-chosen;’ and Chambers, Aytoun, and other editors are in full accord with Scott. An imperfect reissue of the work, manifestly without Herd's supervision, appeared in 1791, and a full and satisfactory reprint was published at Glasgow in 1869. Constable mentions that Herd presented to him his own copy of the 1776 edition and a manuscript prepared for a second collection (Constable and his Literary Correspondents, i. 22).

[Authorities in text; Chambers's Eminent Scotsmen; information from Dr. Alex. Laing, Newburgh-on-Tay, the Rev. T. C. M'Clure, Marykirk, the Rev. R. Davidson, St. Cyrus, and Mr. James Stillie, bookseller, Edinburgh.]

T. B.