Dougall, Neil (DNB00)


DOUGALL, NEIL (1776–1862), Scotch poet and musical composer, was born in Greenock 9 Dec. 1776. His father, originally a joiner, having tried to improve his position by going to sea, was impressed into the naval service, and died in Ceylon when his only son was four years old. Mrs. Dougall married again, and Neil was kept at school till he was fifteen, when he was apprenticed as a sailor on board the ship Britannia. On the war breaking out with France in 1793, Dougall was transferred to the yacht Clarence, trading to the Mediterranean from the north of Scotland, and furnished with a letter of marque authorising reprisals on the high seas. When this vessel was lying at Greenock news was received, on 14 June 1794, of Lord Howe's great victory a fortnight earlier over the French, and, on a salute being fired in honour of the event, an accidental discharge from a mismanaged gun wounded Dougall terribly in the right side and permanently destroyed his eyesight. His right arm had to be amputated above the elbow, and but for his splendid constitution he must have sunk under his sufferings. Gradually recovering he speedily developed a musical talent, which he cultivated with such assiduity and success that he was soon a popular teacher of singing. He married in 1806, and by his teaching, together with his business as keeper of a tavern and then as head of a boarding-house, he was enabled respectably to rear a family of four sons and six daughters. He died at Greenock 1 Dec. 1862. Dougall is the composer of about a hundred psalm and hymn tunes, of which ‘Kilmarnock’ (suggested by an experiment of R. A. Smith's on the Caledonian scale) won instant favour by its grave pathos and stately solemnity of movement, and has continued to be one of the standard melodies in the presbyterian church service. In 1854 Dougall published, through Joseph Blair, Greenock, a small volume of ‘Poems and Songs,’ containing twelve ‘miscellaneous pieces,’ eleven ‘songs,’ and thirteen ‘sacred pieces.’ Several of these were set to music by himself. The miscellaneous poems comprise various spirited imitations of the conventional pastorals of the eighteenth century, and a generously conceived and vigorously worked tribute to Burns, written a few days after the poet's death. The songs are generally easy and graceful, and one of them, ‘My Braw John Highlandman,’ by simplicity and directness of motive, and catching fluency of movement, reaches a level of comparative excellence. The sacred pieces are mainly written for Sunday scholars, and, while breathing a sympathetic and pious spirit, do not call for special notice. It is curious that recent works on Scottish poetry, such as Grant Wilson's and Whitelaw's, make no mention of Dougall.

[Biographical sketch prefixed to Poems and Songs; Greenock and Glasgow newspapers of 1862; private information.]

T. B.