William Julius Mickle was born in Langholm, Dumfriesshire, the son of the minister of Langholm. The family moved to Edinburgh for the sake of the children’s education but his father retained his stipend for Langholm. He was taught first by his father and later at the high school in Edinburgh but was pulled at the age of sixteen as he was needed as a clerk in his aunt’s brewing business after her husband had died and William’s elder brother had taken over its management.
After being declared bankrupt after falling into debt as a result of a surety on which a friend had defaulted, he moved to London in 1763 to escape his creditors. After two years there he was offered a job as a corrector with the Clarendon Press in Oxford and lived in rented accommodation with a Mr Tomkins whose daughter he subsequently married. He had been interested in poetry, particularly Spenser, from an early age and had published some short poems in 1765. He eventually gave up his job to concentrate on developing a career as a poet and from 1770 to 1775 worked on a translation of the Portugues poet Luis de Camoes’s Lusiad. This was also very well received in England when published and is now regarded as a classic.
After having unsuccessfully tried to enlist in the navy, in 1777 he joined a privateering expedition as secretary to the captain of the Romney from which profited handsomely with his share of the prize money. He was feted during the time the ship spent in Portugal for his translation of the Lusiad and was admitted to the Royal Academy of Lisbon. His share of the prize money they had garnered enabled him to discharge all his debts, buy a house and get married. In 1779 he published a pamphlet on the India question and his poem Almada Hill, set in Portugal followed by the poem Cumnor Hall in 1784 which apparently gave Sir Walter Scott the inspiration for his novel Kenilworth.
He also wrote Voltaire in the Shades, or Dialogues on the Deistical Controversy and Syr Martyn, portraying the degrading effects of concubinage. Apart from his long poem the Lusiad, he is probably best known for his poem There’s Nae Luck About the House. His poetry which is not abundant, displays an energy of thought and a sweetness of versification. He died at his home in Forest Hill in 1788, leaving a widow and a young son.