To David Brodie, November 10, 1789

Despondency—Poets of 'fine feelings'—Encouragement given—perhaps better to remain a 'Weaver' only—nevertheless, the Muse a comforter—A 'Packman' not respected—Poems need correction—'Lochwinnoch' and M'Dowall.

To Mr. DAVID BRODIE, Schoolmaster,
Quarrelton, near Paisley.
Nov. 10th, 1789.

             Among the many and dismal ingredients that embitter the cup of life, none affect the feelings or distress the spirit, as deeply as despondence. She is the daughter of disappointed hope, and the mother of gloomy despair, the source of every misery, and the channel to eternal ruin. Happy, thrice happy the man, whose breast is fortified against her insinuations, and towers above her tyranny. But, alas! what heart has not sunk beneath her melancholy frowns! To be snatched from the yawning jaws of ruin, raised on the wings of hope to the delightful fields of bliss and felicity—to have the enchanting prospect before us, or within our grasp, and in these flattering circumstances to be cruelly insulted, and unmercifully precipitated down the unfathomable gulph, is what would bring a sigh from the most insensible and hardened wretch in the universe. How much more then must it agonize that individual who trembles at the least prospect of disorder or misfortune. In every age the poet has been allowed to be possessed of finer feelings, and quicker sensations than the bulk of mankind. To him joy is rapture, and sorrow despair; the least beam of hope brightens, and the slightest shades horrify his tumultuous soul? Imagination points out the approaching storm, and anticipates that wretchedness which it thinks is impossible to be avoided. If such their state, may Heaven guard me from the wretched tribe. But what do I say? I have been hurried on by the irresistible tide of inclination until now, and at this moment I find myself enrolled among those very wretches, and a sharer of these express torments at which I start. Oh, my friend! why did you awake that spark of genius, which has now overspread my soul? Your smile called it to existence, and your approbation inspired its gathering flame. How greedily did I devour the tempting bait. Every look of applause lifted me a stage, till I gained the highest pinnacle of Hope and Expectation; and how dreadful my fall! Happy would I have been, had I scorned the offered incense of praise, and been deaf, resolutely deaf, to the bewitching accents; then had I still been buried in the dark cobweb recesses of some solitary hut, launching the murmuring shuttle, or guiding the slender thread; all my care a trifle to satisfy my landlady, and all my joy John's grim-like smile; and my highest hope, a good web. Transporting thought, delightful period.' These were the times of joy and plenty, the reign of uninterrupted content. Were they? Ha! where is my mistaken fancy running ? “The reign of content, the times of plenty.” Conscience denies the lying assertion, and experience shakes her expressive head. She says no such times were they. Toil was thy abhorrence. Want hovered over thy loom, and poverty stalked with thee as thy shadow. True, my faithful guide,—true is your accusation. I own I grovelled in obscurity, no hopes to inspire, nor muse to soothe my struggling breast, till you, my dear friend, saw the glimmering spark, blew it to a flame, and rescued the buried muse from oblivion. How often has she soothed my troubled mind, and enabled me to breathe forth my melancholy plaints, dissolved me to joy, or swelled me to rapture; and shall I blame you for this? No, my dear sir, your name inspires her theme, and her best services shall be at your feet.
  Since I left Paisley, I have met with some encouragement, but I assure you, sir, that my occupation is greatly against my success in collecting subscribers. A Packman is a character which none esteem, and almost every one despises. The idea which people of all ranks entertain of them is, that they are mean-spirited, loquacious liars, cunning and illiterate, watching every opportunity, and using every low and mean art within their power to cheat. When any one applies to a genteel person, pretending to be a poet, he is treated with ridicule and contempt; and even though he should produce a specimen, it is either thrown back again, without being thought worthy of perusal, or else read with prejudice. I find also that a poet's fame is his wealth. Of this the booksellers to whom I applied with proposals have complained, saying “it was a pity I was not better known.” I think therefore it will be my best scheme to collect the manuscripts in an orderly manner, and send them to some gentleman for correction. Since I saw you, I have finished several pieces in English verse, particularly a poem entitled “Lochwinnoch,” in which I hope I have drawn the character of Mr. M‘D. so as to please you, and perhaps himself, yet after all you cannot conceive the difficulties which at present involve,
                      DEAR SIR,
                              Your humble Servant,
                                                  ALEXANDER WILSON.