Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/238

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


32 "WILLIAM JULIUS MICKLE.

and ever since had entertained the design of executing an English version. He now, for the first time, found leisure and encouragement to attempt so laborious a task. The first canto was published as a specimen in 1771, and met with so much approbation, as to induce him to abandon his duties at Oxford, and de- vote himself entirely to this more pleasing occupation. Having retired to a farm house at Forest-hill, he applied himself unremittingly to the labour, sub- sisting upon the money which he drew from time to time as subscriptions for liis work. In 1775, the version was completed ; and, that no means might be want- ing for obtaining it a favourable reception, he published it, with a dedication to a nobleman of high influence, with whom his family had been connected. The work obtained a large measure of public approbation, which it has ever since re- tained ; but its reception with the patron was not what the translator had been led to expect. A copy was bound in a most expensive manner, and sent to that high personage ; but, months passing on without any notice even of its receipt, a friend of the poet, in high official situation, called upon his lordship, to learn, if possible, the cause of his silence. He found that some frivolous literary ad- versary of Mickle had prejudiced the noble lord against the work, and that tho presentation copy was, till that moment, unopened. We have here, perhaps, one of the latest instances of that prostration of genius before the shrine of rank, which was formerly supposed to be so indispensable to literary success, but was, in reality, even in the most favourable instances, only productive of paltry and proximate advantages. The whole system of dedication was an ab- surdity. Books were in reality written for the public, and to the public did their authors look for that honour which forms the best motive for literary exer- tion. To profess to devote their works more particularly to some single member of the community, was an impertinence to all the rest, that ought never to have been practised ; and we might the more readily denounce the above instance of " patrician meanness," as Mickle's first biographer terms it, if we could see any rationality in the author expecting so much more from one individual, for his labours, than from another.

During the progress of his translation^ Mickle composed a tragedy, under ihe title of the Siege of Marseilles., which was shown to Garrick, and rejected on account of its want of stage effect It was then revised and altered by 3.r Home, author of the tragedy of Douglas ; and a proposal was made to the au- thor to bring it forward in the Edinburgh theatre. This idea was afterwards abandoned, and the tragedy remained in abeyance till the conclusion of the Lusiad, when the author made another effort to bring it out on the London stage. It was shown to Mr Harris of Covent Garden, and again rejected. Af- ter this repulse, Mickle relinquished all expectations of advantage from the theatre, though he permitted the unfortunate play to be shown to Sheridan, from whom he never again received it.

The Lusiad was so well received, that a second edition was found necessary in 1779. In the same year, Mickle published a pamphlet on the India ques- tion, which was at one time expected to obtain for him some marks even of royal favour. In May, the most fortunate incident in his life took place. His friend, Mr Johnston, formerly governor of South Carolina, was then appointed to the command of the Romney man-of-war, and Mickle, being chosen by him as his secretary, went out to sea in his company, in order to partake of whatever good fortune he might encounter, during a cruise against the Spaniards. In Novem- ber, he arrived at Lisbon, where he was received with very flattering marks of at- tention, and stayed six months, during which time he collected many traits of the Portuguese character and customs, with the intention, never fulfilled, of com- bining them in a book. During his residence in Portugal, he wrote his best