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From M. Kenspeckle to his Brother in Kilmarnock.


Though my intercourse with the citizens of Glasgow is not so intimate as to allow me very extensive opportunities of studying their peculiarities, and though my habits as an inmate of a college are somewhat at variance with the occupations of a painter, or the duties of a satirist; yet, as you are pleased to consider that my reports have interest enough to warrant their continuance, and as they may furnish some amusement to the good people at home, I am disposed to risk the chances of errors in judgment and local knowledge, by prolonging a correspondence which now begins to wear the aspect of a system. I lay no claim to infallibility, nor do I pursue any organised plan. My opinions may be as incorrect as my observations are unconnected: they only profess to be the sentiments of an individual, who has neither malice to gratify or profit to acquire by communicating


You probably know that Glasgow is remarkable for the poor encouragement which is given to all public amusements; and you may have heard that a population of more than 100,000 souls, cannot (or rather will not) afford a living to a company of comedians, said to be the most respectable in any provincial town out of London. The fact is undeniable but it is usually stated in defence of the inhabitants, that their mercantile occupations


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Letter from Matthew Kenspeckle.

demand such unceasing attention as to allow little time for such amusements as are deemed superfluous. Whether this is sufficient extenuation I cannot determine; but it is very obvious, that when any particular species of recreation becomes the rage, these scruples, which hang with the looseness of a Roman Toga, are laid aside, and hosts crowd to those places where all the world is to be seen. The most prominent feature in the history of Glasgow at present, is the musical mania which seems to have seized all orders of society, from the young gentleman and smiling miss who attend the concerts, to the ragged and barefoot little mendicant, who listens with anxious ears to the strains of the street performers, whom you meet in every corner of the city, from ten in the morning till ten at night. No part of the town is exempted from their visits; and with a complacency which I have never seen equalled, they persist in their endeavours to amuse, though you signify by words or a small piece of money, that you are perfectly satisfied. Some of them I confess execute their parts in a style which would do credit to more dignified performers; but of the generality, to say that they approach to mediocrity, is to praise them. They travel in bands, rarely solus, and by a mixture of instruments of various kinds, produce the very essence of dissonance. Conceive, for instance, a man attempting to play on a clarionet which he cannot even blow, accompanied by another who screeches on an octavo flute, making joint efforts to accomplish the finest Scotch airs, and missing a bar or two when they encounter any difficulty: conceive, I say, these two going in one direction, while another group, consisting of a man with a fiddle, accompanied by a woman and a boy, roaring the words of some favourite songs, meet them in the opposite direction. Need I say what happens? By the head of my grandfather, (to borrow an oath) I never heard such a combination. It is a war of sounds, if such a thing can be; a medley of bawling, fiddling, and screeching; and so zealous are both parties, that you would conclude their respectability depended on the loudness of their music. Add to this the cries of Ballad-singers, Almanack-mongers, and Peat-venders, and you will be able to form some conception of sounds which defy analysis. This nuisance is increased by the addition of hosts of noisy women and girls, who crowd at an early hour round carts carrying butter-milk, and rend the air with cries for their favourite beverage.

Letter from Matthew Kenspeckle.

It would be uninteresting to attempt a description of the various individuals who wander about in a public capacity here; they are infinitely too numerous to be noticed, and besides exhibit such a similarity in history, that one or two examples will convey a sufficiently correct idea of the whole. There are only two, who I think deserve to be particularly noticed. The one is a ballad-seller; the other a poet and a fiddler: the first is generally called True Blue; the second, familiarly, Blind Aleck: the first is a little man who cries almanacks, speeches and pamphlets, and sells ballads or salt-herrings as occasion may require; and who from the variety of his occupations and his aptness at each, would make an excellent subject for craniological investigation. He must, I think, from his versatility, have an unusual number of bumps on his head, and I hope when he dies, care will be taken to have his skull sent to the learned Gall, who, I understand, has a collection of capita remarkable for their deformity, which belonged to men of transcendent genius.

His face, from his habits of imposing on the credulity of mankind, has acquired an archness of expression, which, joined to a strange appearance of jocularity, and a remarkable voice, attracts the notice of passengers, and collects around him nunbers who laugh at his waggery, and to whom he retails his wonderful stories" for the small charge of one halfpenny." The little gentleman is frequently under the influence of foreign excitation: i. e. when the fervour which poetry naturally inspires, has in some degree subsided, he has recourse to the exhilarating power of a well known stimulus, and under its effects blinks inost sagaciously on the bye-standers. He is possessed of considerable humour, and has really a selection of language which indicates cleverness. He is never idle, but is constantly travelling about the city or its environs, and I perceive of late has made an attempt at singing. His talent, however, lies in recitation, at which he has a particular knack. The cadence of his voice, his grotesque appearance, his diminutive stature, and purple nose, render him so conspicuous, that you cannot pass him unnoticed. I was much amused some days ago, when I saw him suspend betwixt his finger and thumb the last of his stock of almanacks, crying, with a significant grin, " Alman-yck, alman-yck :" laying particular emphasis on the last syllable.

The person, who next claims our attention, is a bard of note, whom the good people in the west have an exceeding partiality

Letter from Matthew Kenspeckle.

for. Aleck, in fact, is a man original in every thing he does. His eye-sight is so imperfect that he is usually considered to be stone-blind, he does however glimmer a little with one eye, and manages to grope through the city with the most perfect safety. It is commonly remarked, that deficiency in one sense begets perfection in another-accordingly Aleck's attention, being undiverted by external objects, he has turned it solely to one point, viz. the cultivation of his muse: and has made such proficiency as to entitle him to just distinction. It is to be hoped, then, that future historians and compilers of city records, will not omit a name which, though not indigenous to Scotland, throws a lustre around the country, where the scenes of his poems are laid. Aleck is an excellent exemplication of the Latin adage, "Poeta nascitur non fit," and his poetry is a rare combination of all that is elegant in fiction, and classical in taste! No doubt this depends a good deal on his musical ear, for he accompanies his effusions, which are extemporaneous, with the fiddle, and charms alike by the ease of his performance, and the chasteness of his execution! He is uneducated, but is a favourite son of nature; and to the harmony of a voice unrivalled for sweetness, adds the happy talent of elegant and accurate versification! It is impossible by words to convey any adequate conception of his powers; and as no edition of his works has been yet published, I cannot promise many specimens of his writings. To form a just estimate of his talents, you must listen to his music, and attend to his song; you must pursue him through lanes and wynds, and gather from the profusion with which they are scattered, a few couplets indicative of his excellence!!

To describe the versatility of Aleck's poetical genius would be a difficult task. He is somewhat monotonous in his verses, but infinitely diversified in his subject. Arma virosque canit—to parody on Virgil. Like all poets of nature, he occasionally sets the rules of strict writing aside, but his untutored powers uniformly rise superiour to the obstacles opposed to him, and break forth in a strain of energy and feeling which is seldom surpass ed.—Take the following stanza as an example:

My friends, great news have come to town,
The partic'lars I don't know;

But I will tell you in the afternown!!!

Of his loyalty the following beautiful lines are sufficient proof;

Once more the Forty-second bid Scotland farewell,
Who are never failing, loyal Highlandmen:

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