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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Brydges, Sir Samuel Egerton, Bt. (1762-1837)

Born at the manor house of Wooton, between Canterbury and Dover, the second son of Edward Brydges, he was educated at Maidstone School, Canterbury, and Queen's College, Cambridge. He then entered the Middle Temple and was called toe the bar in November 1787, but never practised. He bought himself a country seat, Dnton Court, near his birthplace and retired there in 1792 to gratify his boyhood passion of 'giving himself up to English poetry'. He published volumes of his own poems in 1785 and 1807, which were not well received, though his novels Mary de Clifford (1792) and Arthur Fitz-Albini (1798) were fairly popular. His mistaken belief in what he considered his genius, and his dislike of his neighbour 'bookhating squires' caused him some unhappiness. IN spite of some useful work as a bibliographer, however, he was left further dissatisfied after his failure before the House of Lords to establish his claim to the title Baron Chandos.

In 1810, Brydges moved to Lee Priory, near Canterbury, and in 1812 was elected MP for Maidstone. From 11813 to 1822, Brydges was concerned in the running of the Lee Priory Press, which put out fine editions of Elizabethan and other works, many of them rare and interesting.

From 1818, except for a visit of two years' duration to England, Brydges lived abroad, principally at Geneva. Twice married, he had by both wives large families. He published his autobiography in 1834.

The following reminiscence of his meeting with Burns was first published in the Metropolitan Magazine, and is of interest in that Brydges was very much a bookman from the South.

'I had always been a great admirer of his genius and of many traits in his character; and I was aware that he was a person moody and somewhat difficult to deal with. I was resolved to keep in full consideration the irritability of his position in Society. About a mile from his residence, on a bench, under a tree, I passed a figure, which from the engraved portraits of him I did not doubt was the poet; but I did not venture to address him. On arriving at his humble cottage, Mrs Burns opened the door; she was the plain sort of humble woman she has been described; she ushered me into a neat apartment, and said that she would send for Burns, who was gone for a walk. In about half an hour he came, and my conjecture proved right; he was the person I had seen on the bench by the roadside. At first I was not entirely pleased with his countenance. I thought it had a sort of capricious jealousy, as if he was half inclined to treat me as an intruder. I resolved to bear it, and try if I could humour him. I let him choose his turn of conversation, but said a few words about the friend whose letter I had brought to him. It was now a bout four in the afternoon of an autumn day. While we were talking, Mrs Burns, as if accustomed to entertain visitors in this way, brought in a bottle of Scotch Whisky, and set the table. I accepted this hospitality. I could not help observing the curious glance with which he watched me at the entrance of this signal of homely entertainment. He was satisfied; he filled our glasses. 'Here's a health to auld Caledonia!' The fire sparkled in his eye, and mine sympathetically met his. He shook my hand with warmth, and we were friends at once. Then he drank 'Erin for ever!' and the tear of delight burst from his eye. The fountain of his mind and his heart now opened at once, and flowed with abundant force almost till midnight.

'He had amazing acuteness of intellect as well as glow of sentiment. I do not deny that he said some absurd things, and many coarse ones, and that his knowledge was very irregular, and sometimes too presumptuous, and that he did not endure contradiction with sufficient patience. His pride, and perhaps his vanity, was even morbid. I carefully avoided topics in which he could not take an active part. Of literary gossip h knew nothing, and therefore I kept aloof from it: in the technical parts of literature his opinions were crude and uninformed; but whenever he spoke of a great writer whom he had read, his taste was generally sound. To a few minor writers he gave more credit than they deserved. His great beauty was his manly strength, and his energy and elevation of thought and feeling. He had always a full mind, and all flowed from a genuine spring. I never conversed with a man who appeared to be more warmly impressed with the beauties of nature; and visions of female beauty and tenderness seemed to transport him. He did not merely appear to be a poet at casual intervals; but at every moment a poetical enthusiasm seemed to beat in his veins, and he lived all his days the inward if not the outward life of a poet. I thought I perceived in Burns's cheek the symptoms of an energy which had been pushed too far; and he had this feeling himself. Every now and then he spoke of the grave as soon about to close over him. His dark eye had at first a character of sternness; but as he became warmed, thought this did not entirely melt away, it was mingled with changes of extreme softness.'`

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