Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/170

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furnisiied with an introduction to a mercantile house. On his arrival, being com- pletely disgusted with the sea, he hesitated not in accepting the latter alternative. It is probably to this period of his life, that we are to fix an event of a singular nature which is stated to have entirely altered his prospects in life. His master had married a lady much younger than himself, and of great personal attrac- tions ; and young Macneil was upon terms of equal intimacy with both. One day, while he was sitting upon a garden chair with the lady, and reading with her from the same book, the ardent feelings of one-and-twenty prompted him to express his admiration of her beauty, by snatching a kiss. It proved the knell of his departing fortune. Notwithstanding his instant penitence, and entreaties for forgiveness, the lady conceived it necessary to inform her husband of what had happened ; and the immediate consequence was, the dismissal of Macneil, and a termination to the prospects that were brightening around him. He con- tinued for many years in the West Indies, but does not appear to have ever after known what could be called prosperity. At one time, if not during the whole remaining period of his residence in those colonies, this hapless bard had to stoop to the ungenial employment of a negro-driver. While in this situ- ation, he became a strenuous advocate for the system of West India slavery, and wrote a pamphlet in its defence. The only thing which he allowed to be neces- sary to make the condition of slavery agreeable, was an improvement in the moral conduct of the masters : a subsequent age has seen slavery brought to an end before this improvement was accomplished.

When above forty years of age, Macneil returned to Scotland, in a wretched state of health, and without having earned even a moderate independence. In these circumstances, notwithstanding that he had many good connexions, and still preserved the feelings of a gentleman and a poet, his situation was of a truly deplorable kind. He, nevertheless, began to exercise the intellectual fa- culties, which, though so early displayed, had been kept in a kind of abeyance during the intervening period of his life. In 1789, he published " The Harp, a Legendary Tale," which brought him into some notice in the literary circles. In 1795, appeared his principal poetical composition, " Scotland's Skaith, or the History o' Will and Jean ; ower true a Tale," followed next year by a sequel, entitled " The Waes o' War." Its excellent intention and tendency, with the strokes of sweet and beautiful pathos with which it abounds, render this one of the most admired productions of the Doric muse of Scotland. Ex- cept for a simplicity, occasionally degenerating into baldness, which characterizes this as well as other productions of Macneil, " Will and Jean " might safely be compared with the happiest efforts of any other Scottish poet. The enchanting influence of village potations and politics the deterioration of a worthy rustic character by such means the consequent despair and degradation of an origin- ally amiable wife besides the distresses of the Flemish campaign of 1793, and the subsequent restoration of the ruined family to partial comfort, are all de- lineated in most masterly style. About the same time, Macneil produced " The Links of Forth ; or a parting Peep at the Carse of Stirling." This is a descrip- tive poem ; but, though not devoid of merit, it is more laboured and less pleas- ing. He wrote also a number of songs, some of which possess much pathos and delicacy of sentiment Not being able, however, to find any means of pro- viding a subsistence, necessity compelled him to seek again the burning climate of the West Indies. After a residence there of only a year and a half, Mi- Graham, an intimate friend, died, and left him an annuity of 100, with which lie immediately returned to Edinburgh, to enjoy, with this humble indepen- dence, the sweets of literary leisure and society. His reputation and manners procured him ready admittance into the most respectable circles ; he enjoyed par