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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne (1766–1845)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Thomas Davidson (1840–1900)
 
CAROLINA OLIPHANT, better known as Lady Nairne, or the Baroness Nairne, the sweetest and tenderest of all the Scottish singers, was born at the house of Gask in Perthshire, on August 16th, 1766. Her family, whose original name was Olifard, had been distinguished for courage and loyalty from the middle of the twelfth century. In the civil wars of 1715 and 1745 they took part with the “Pretenders,” and suffered grievously in consequence. Carolina was named after “Prince Charlie.” From her earliest childhood she was remarkable for beauty, sweetness of disposition, and mental ability. She was especially fond of poetry and music, at which several of her ancestors had tried their hands. She knew all the old ballads and songs, and delighted to play and sing them. As she grew up, she became a universal favorite with high and low, and was celebrated in song as the “Flower o’ Strathearn.” She was a gay, robust, rollicking girl, extremely fond of dancing, riding, and all healthy amusements. In 1797, when she was in Durham, she received an offer of marriage from a royal duke, but declined it, being already engaged to her cousin Major (afterwards Lord) Nairne. Meanwhile, having observed that many of the beautiful, simple tunes sung by the Scottish peasantry were accompanied with words of doubtful tendency, and being also encouraged by the example of Burns, she began to consider whether she might not do good by writing better words. Her first effort was ‘The Plowman,’ whose immediate success encouraged her to further effort. Soon after this she wrote most of her humorous and Jacobite songs. In 1798, on the death of the only child of a friend of her girlhood, she wrote the song by which she is best known, ‘The Land o’ the Leal’; which, for tenderness and genuine pathos, has no equal in any language. It is sung to almost the same tune as Burns’s ‘Scots Wha Hae.’ About this time, the deeply loyal and religious tendency in her nature manifested itself in a genuine “conversion,” which made her a Christian, in the deepest and best sense, for the rest of her life. She used to say, “Religion is a walking and not a talking concern;” and so she did her good deeds by stealth.  1
  In 1806 she married her cousin, Major Nairne, then Inspector-General of Barracks for Scotland; and settled in Edinburgh, where her only child, named William Murray, was born in 1808. Though she might have mixed with the best fashionable and literary society of the Scottish capital, she preferred to live a retired life and to keep the secret of her authorship to herself. She did not even communicate it to her adored husband, lest in his pride of her “he micht blab.” She did not even cultivate the friendship of Sir Walter Scott, although her sister married a relative of his. She did, however, take the lead in a committee of ladies who undertook to help Mr. Purdie, an Edinburgh music-publisher, to bring out the ‘Scottish Minstrel,’ a purified collection of Scotch songs and airs. In doing so, she assumed the name of Mrs. Bogan of Bogan; and by this alone she was ever known to Mr. Purdie, who was carefully cautioned not to divulge it. And he didn’t. The ‘Minstrel’ was completed in 1824, in six octavo volumes. The same year Major Nairne was raised to the peerage, which his family had lost through loyalty to the Stuarts; and so his wife became Lady Nairne. He died in 1829; and then on account of her son’s health she removed first to Clifton, near Bristol, and then to Ireland, where she made many friends, and took a deep interest in the people. In 1834, after a brief visit to Scotland, she crossed over, with her sister, son, and niece, to the Continent. After visiting Paris, Florence, Rome, Naples, Geneva, Interlaken, and Baden, the party wintered at Mannheim; and thence, in the spring of 1837, went to Baden-Baden, where young Lord Nairne was seized with influenza, which turned into consumption. He died on the 7th of December, and was buried in Brussels. Lady Nairne, now seventy-two years of age, never recovered from this blow; nevertheless, she refrained from complaining, and devoted the rest of her life to doing good. After visiting Paris, Wildbad, Stuttgart, and other places, she settled for a time in Munich. She then traveled for four years in Germany, Austria, and France, never meaning to return to her own country. But in 1843, yielding to the wishes of her nephew, James Blair Oliphant, now proprietor of Gask, she was induced to return to the scenes of her childhood; though she could not return to the “auld hoose,” since that had been pulled down in 1819. Here she spent her time communicating with old friends, arranging family papers, praying, reading, and distributing her money among worthy causes,—always with the proviso that her name was not to be mentioned. She passed quietly away on the 26th of October, 1845, and was buried in the private chapel at Gask,—a shrine thenceforth for all lovers of poetry.  2
  There are few lives on record in which one would not wish to see something otherwise than it was; but Lady Nairne’s is one of them. Indeed it is difficult to conceive a life more simply, nobly lived. She was adorned with every grace of womanhood: beauty, dignity, tenderness, loyalty, intelligence, art, religion. She was not only a model daughter, sister, wife, and mother, and a charming conversationalist and correspondent, but she was also an admirable artist and musician, and she wrote the finest lyrics in the Scottish language. Her charity also was bounded only by her means. And yet, when she went to her grave, there were probably not more than three or four persons in the world who knew that she had ever written a line of poetry, or expended a sovereign in charity. Dr. Chalmers, however, who had been to a large extent her almoner, considered himself relieved from his promise of secrecy by her death, and told of the large sums he had received from her; while her sister and niece, assuming a similar liberty, allowed the world to know that she had written over seventy of the best songs that ever were composed,—songs pathetic, humorous, playful, martial, religious. Thus her literary fame was entirely posthumous; but it has grown steadily, and will continue to grow. In the world of lyric poetry she stands, among women, next to Sappho. There is something about her songs that has no name,—something simple, natural, living, inevitable. The range of her work is not equal to that of Burns; but where she could go, he could not follow her. She knew where the heart-strings lie, and she knew how to draw from them their deepest music. In handling the Scottish language, she has no equal. She spoke from her heart, in the heartiest of languages, and her words go to the heart and remain there.  3
 
 
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