Riddell, Henry Scott (DNB00)

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RIDDELL, HENRY SCOTT (1798–1870), minor poet, son of a shepherd, was born at Sorbie, parish of Ewes, Dumfriesshire, 23 Sept. 1798. In his childhood his father settled for several years in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire, and about 1811 farmed for a year in the parish of Hoddam in the same county. Subsequently he again became a shepherd at Deloraine, Selkirkshire. Meanwhile Riddell's education progressed slowly; in summer he acted as a herd, and in winter he was either taught at home by a visiting master or was boarded in some village to secure school training. While the family lived at Eskdalemuir they were visited by Hogg, who sang or recited to them his own lyrics. After two or three years of shepherd life Riddell, on the death of his father in 1817, attended for about two years the parish school of Biggar, Lanarkshire, and then entered Edinburgh University, where he was befriended by Professor Wilson. His college course included a year at St. Andrews under Chalmers and other eminent professors, and lasted till 1830, when he became a licentiate of the church of Scotland.

In 1831 Riddell settled with his eldest brother at Teviothead, Roxburghshire, and in 1833 became incumbent of Caerlanrig chapel. Soon afterwards he married, and for some time, owing to the want of a dwelling-house, lived near Hawick, nine miles off, thus conducting his work under difficult conditions. At length the Duke of Buccleuch provided a suitable dwelling near the chapel, and for many years Riddell enjoyed prosperity and comfort. In 1841 he showed symptoms of insanity, and for three years he was confined in an asylum at Dumfries. Returning to Teviothead, he was enabled, by the generosity of the Duke of Buccleuch, to retain his cottage while resigning his living; there he lived very quietly, occasionally lecturing at Hawick or elsewhere in behalf of some charitable object, but devoting himself mainly to the improvement of his house and its surroundings, and to literary work. He interested himself in local excavations, supported the Hawick Archæological Society, and wrote a careful article, ‘Cavers,’ for the ‘Statistical Account of Scotland.’ When he was sixty-one he was publicly presented at Hawick with an Irish harp. He died at Teviothead 30 July 1870, and was buried in Caerlanrig churchyard. A monument to his memory was erected on a hill near Teviothead, and in 1894 there was affixed to it a tablet inscribed with an appropriate quatrain.

Riddell married, probably in 1833, Eliza Clark—the Eliza of his songs—daughter of a Biggar merchant. She survived him, with two sons, both of whom settled abroad.

While at Biggar school Riddell was a contributor to the ‘Clydesdale Magazine,’ and wrote ‘The Crook and Plaid,’ one of his most successful songs. A visit to Pinkie, Midlothian, in his student days inspired the vigorous lyric ‘Ours is the Land of Gallant Hearts.’ He contributed pieces about the same time to the collections of Robert Archibald Smith and Peter McLeod, the latter publishing his picturesque song, ‘Scotland Yet.’ Wilson included, with hearty commendation, in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianæ’ for March 1825, Riddell's lyric, ‘When the Glen all is still.’ Riddell published in 1831 ‘Songs of the Ark,’ sacred pieces which are not of much account. In 1844 appeared the ‘Christian Politician,’ a doctrinal volume displaying argumentative power and force of character. A volume entitled ‘Poems, Songs, and Miscellaneous Pieces,’ was issued in 1847. To ‘Hogg's Instructor,’ in 1847, Riddell contributed a discriminating account of the Ettrick shepherd. He translated into lowland Scotch, in 1855 and 1857 respectively, St. Matthew and the Psalms of David, the latter for Prince Lucien Bonaparte. For the ‘Scottish Agricultural Journal,’ in 1848–9, he wrote substantial papers on ‘Store-farming in the South of Scotland,’ and about the same time received from the Highland and Agricultural Society a prize of 10l. for an ‘Essay on Foot-rot in Sheep.’ In 1871, the year after his death, appeared, in two volumes, ‘The Poetical Works of Henry Scott Riddell,’ edited, with a memoir, by Dr. Brydon. Riddell's longer pieces, while ingenious, tend to heaviness, but one or two of his lyrics reach a high standard, and ‘Scotland Yet,’ set to very appropriate music, is one of the most popular of Scottish songs.

[Brydon's Memoir, with incorporated Autobiography, prefixed to Poems; Rogers's Scottish Minstrel; Goodfellow's Border Biography.]

T. B.