Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lewis, Stuart

LEWIS, STUART (1756?–1818), Scottish poet, born about 1756 at Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, son of an innkeeper with Jacobite sympathies, was named after Prince Charles the young Pretender. His school career was shortened by his father's early death. For a time he was in partnership as a merchant tailor in Chester, but being ruined by his partner returned to Ecclefechan to carry on the same occupation. He read much and wrote popular verses, besides establishing and fostering a village library and a debating club. But his business did not prosper, and he enlisted into the Hopetoun Fencibles. Here he somewhat augmented his regulation pay by what he received for writing suitable lyrics for the officers. On the disbanding of the regiment in 1799 Lewis was employed as a travelling cloth-merchant in the west of England, but he fell a victim to intemperance, and from about his fiftieth year roamed over Scotland as ‘the mendicant bard,’ picking up a livelihood as ‘beggar, ballad-vendor, and tinker’ (Bards of Bon-Accord, p. 648). Fever, induced by a fall into the Nith, ended in his death at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, 22 Sept. 1818. His wife died a year before.

While at Ecclefechan Lewis produced his poem on ‘Fair Helen of Kirkconnell,’ Edinburgh, 1796, 8vo. The poem was afterwards published for the author at Aberdeen in 1816. The preface, in which he tries to settle the history of the famous legendary ballad on the same theme, is interesting and valuable (Scots Musical Museum, iv. 208*). ‘Moranza, or the African Slave, an Address to Poverty, and an Elegy on a Young Gentleman who died at Angola,’ was published at Edinburgh, 1816, 8vo. Of his miscellaneous lyrics ‘O'er the Muir’ is noteworthy both for its intrinsic merits and because it is either an anticipation or an expansion of ‘O'er the Muir amang the Heather,’ by Jean Glover (1758–1801) [q. v.] Lewis averred that his piece was the earlier (Gallovidian Encyclopædia, p. 338), but the precise relationship of the two cannot be determined.

[Authorities in the text; Rogers's Scottish Minstrel; Whitelaw's Book of Scottish Song, 1866, p. 356.]

T. B.