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Painted by H Rasburn,
Eng by R. Scott.
For the Scots Mag. & Edin." Liter Mis. Pub. by A. Constable and C1 Feb 1809,
EDINBURGH LITERARY MISCELLANY,
FOR JANUARY 1809.
A brief biographical Account of NEIL Neil for some time declined the con
test, believing himself to be no match for such masters in the art. At last, however, he was prevailed on, to enter the lists; and one of the minstrels, who was blind, being made the um pire, the prize was adjudged to Nel Gow, by a sentence, in the justice of which the other competitors cheerfully acquiesced. On this occasion, giving his decision, the judge said, that he could distinguish the stroke of Neil's Bow among a hundred players.
In giving a few notices respecting a character so justly celebrated in his particular sphere of life, it is natural to begin with mentioning the professional merits of this extraordinary person. His taste for music was ear- Having now attained the summit = Îy decided. At the age of nine he of his profession at home, the distin began to play, and was, it is said, self-guished patronage, first of the Athole. taught, till about his thirteenth year, family, and afterwards of the Duchess when he received some instruction of Gordon, soon introduced him to from John Cameron, an attendant of the universal notice and admiration of Sir George Stewart of Grandtully. the fashionable world. From this peThe following anecdote of a competi- riod Gow's excellence was doubtless tion, which happened a few years af- unrivalled in his department of our ter this, deserves to be related, not national music; and formed, in truth, only as a proof of natural genius as- an era in the progress of its imsuming its station at an early period, provement which has since been com but on account of the circumstance pleted by his sons. The livelier airs with which it concludes, and which which belong to the class of what are was perhaps the first acknowledg called the Strathspey and Reel, and ment of that peculiar professional abi- which have long been peculiar to the lity to which he afterwards owed his northern part of the island, assumed, fame. A trial of skill having been in his hand, a style of spirit, fire, and proposed, amongst a few of the best beauty, which had never been heard: performers in the country, young before. It is curious and interesting
to enquire, on the principles of art, in what consisted the peculiar character of a performance which had thus charmed and enlivened the scenes of gaiety and innocent pleasure, with equal effect, in every rank and age of life.
There is perhaps no species whatever of music executed on the violin, in which the characteristic expression depends more on the power of the bow, particularly in what is called the upward or returning stroke, than the Highland reel. Here accordingly was Gow's forte. His bow-hand, as a suitable instrument of his genius, was uncommonly powerful; and when the note produced by the up-bow was of ten feeble and indistinct in other hands, it was struck, in his playing, with a strength and certainty, which never failed to surprize and delight the skilful hearer. As an example, may be mentioned his manner of striking the tenor C, in "Athole House.". -To this extraordinary power of the bow, in the hand of great original genius, must be ascribed the singular felicity of expression which he gave to all his music, and the native Highland goût of certain tunes, such as "Tulloch Gorum," in which his taste and style of bowing could never be exactly reached by any other performer. We may add the effect of the sudden shout, with which he frequently accompanied his playing in the quick tunes, and which seemed instantly to electrify the dancers; inspiring them with new life and energy, and rousing the spirits of the most inanimate. Thus it has been well observed, "the violin, in his hands, sounded like the harp of Ossian, or the lyre of Orpheus; and gave reality to the poetic fictions which describe the astonishing effects of their performance.”
The different publications which have appeared under the name of Neil Gow, and which contain not only his sets of the older tunes, but various oc'casional airs of his own composition, gritte..
for instance, his "Lamentation for Abercairney," and "Loch-Errochside," are striking specimens of his genius, feeling, and power of embellishment. These were set and prepared for publication, by his son Nathaniel; whose respectable character and propriety of conduct have long secured him the esteem and favour of the public, and whose knowledge of composition, and variety of talent in the art, joined with the greatest refinement of taste, elegance of expression, and power of execution, render him (beyond all dispute,) the most accomplished aud successful performer of Scottish music in general, ever produced by this country.
In private life, Neil Gow was distinguished by a sound and vigorous understanding, by a singularly acute penetration into the character of those, both in the higher and lower spheres of Society, with whom he had intercourse; and by the conciliating and appropriate accommodation of his remarks and replies, to the peculiarities of their station and temper. In these he often shewed a high degree of forcible. humour, strong sense and knowledge of the world, and proved himself to have at once a mind naturally sagacious, and a very attentive and discriminating habit of observation. But his most honourable praise is to be drawn from a view of his character, which was not so obvious to the public. His moral and religious principles were originally correct, rational, and heartfelt, and they were never corrupted. His duty in the domestic relations of life, he uniformly fulfilled with exemplary fidelity, generosity, and kindness. In short, by the general integrity, prudence, and propriety of his conduct, he deserved, and he lived and died possessing, as large a portion of respect from his equals, and of good will from his superiors, as has ever fallen to the lot of any man of his rank.
Though he had raised himself to independent and affluent circumstan