To David Brodie, April 8, 1789

Confidence from past approbation—Manuscripts sent for perusal and 'severe' criticism—Spelling and handwriting if it be 'legible' to be excused—Genius 'often appears in rags'—more 'Pieces' ready—A Volume contemplated—disappointed of a letter—The school and pre-occupation no excuse for forgetting 'the Pedlar'— A poetical fable—The future uncertain—Papers destroyed.

To Mr. DAVID BRODIE, Schoolmaster,
Quarrelton, near Paisley.
April 8, 1789.

            Presuming on the approbation you have been pleased often to honour my small performances with, I have here sent for your perusal a collection of the most noticeable that I have at present by me, requesting it as a most singular favour, that you would examine them with the severity of a discerning critic—without mercy; or rather, in mercy, exposing what you deem improper or unharmonious,—as no doubt, in spite of my studied particular care, numbers of such have escaped me. Wrong spelling, or a word or two neglected, I hope you will rectify. Such oversights are not strangers to the most careful. As to the penmanship in which they appear, say nothing about it. If you can read it, that's all I want; if not, I will join with you in calling it truly wretched. What of that? Genius often appears in rags, beauty in a hut; and why may not you disregard the garb when the author has alas! no better to give them? but I know you will.
  I believe I may have as many pieces as finish the book, with some themes only in view yet; and should you approve of it, I would soon curse the world with another poetical volume; but Vanity, hence!
  I have this some time fondly expected a letter from you; but have been disappointed. Involved amid the ceaseless murmur of a school, and your mind employed in hearing petitions, distributing learning and justice, stilling external commotions, and spreading a venerable awe over your tumultuous subjects, is a task superior to thousands, and adequate to great parts. No wonder, then, amid your political operations, you forget the Pedlar (removed to a distant country),—despicable as the vanities he deals in. However, don't imagine I reflect on you. You know me too well for to think that; and I hope you will excuse the freedom I have taken, imputing it to that principle of impudence that every packman is essentially vested with. If after perusing the miscellany, they merit your praise, how will I exult! but as I am prepared for the worst, I shall be bold enough to read my fate in the following fable, which, as I have a little leisure at present, I relate for the sake of the striking likeness of the principle character to it of a certain pedantic genius well known to you:—

A Monkey who, in leisure hours,
Was wondrous fond of herbs and flowers
(For once he wore a gardener's chain,
But 'scaped safe to his woods again),
Chose out a spot to show his parts.
Scratches the soil,—the flower inserts;
There stuck the rose,
There placed the pink,
With various blooms filled every chink.

Around him stole the mimic crew,
Amused at the appearance new;
The shrubs surveyed,
The nodding flowers;
And, struck with wonder at his powers,
Pronounced him. with applauding gape,
A most expert, ingenious ape,—
“Knew humans what you thus inherit,
Unbounded gifts would crown your merit.”
He proudly bowed, Approved their taste,
And for the town prepares in haste.

A bee who flew from bloom to bloom
In vain, for food, thus fixed his doom;—
“What mighty fool! what senseless ass!
Has laid these gaudy nothings thus ?
Stalks placed in bloom,
Shrubs fixed for fruit,
And each without a trunk or root.
Fool that I was to ramble here,
I merit just the whole hives' sneer;
For they who patronise a fool,
Are meanest mankind's meanest tool.”
He spoke,—the burning noontide came,—
They withering shrunk, and sunk his fame.

  If such be my fate, “I'll break my reed, and never whistle mair.”
  I have sent you here a printed piece of a friend's, with a motto on the title page from the pen of the illustrious Alex, which I had inexpressible rapture of seeing in the News!!
  DEAR SIR,—I hope you will, in a short time, remit a few lines to me by Thomas Wotherspoon, or by the direction you have, as I don't “know what a clay may bring forth,”—some unavoidable misfortunes beginning to blacken over my head, and looking melancholy enough, yet for all that, it glads me to be your humble servant,
                                                                        ALEXANDER WILSON.
EDINBURGH, April 8, 1789.

  P.S.—I have no other copy of the Essays save the one I sent you, having committed them to the flames. Some of the pieces are not finished for want of time, not for a want of materials.