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Memoir of Dr Jamieson
The preserver of the Scots Language


Towards the close of his long and busy career, Dr. Jamieson so far yielded to the entreaties of his friends as to throw together some memoranda of the principal events of his life; but, although they were written with great simplicity and candour, in a reflective spirit, and with considerable graphic force, the work as a whole was found to be unsuitable for publication. From these materials, however, a short but very suitable memoir of the author was compiled for the second and somewhat condensed edition of the Scottish Dictionary, issued in 1840-1; and since then, other two accounts of his life have been published. But as that memoir was in substance furnished by the surviving relatives of Dr. Jamieson, it has been selected for our present purpose ; and having been slightly recast in order to adapt it to the present time, it is now presented to the public as the most reliable that can be given.

John Jamieson was born in Glasgow on the 3rd of March, 1759, and was the only son of the Rev. John Jameson, first pastor of the Associate Congregation in Havannah Street (now Duke Street), Glasgow. His mother was the daughter of Mr. Cleland, a merchant of Edinburgh, who had married Rachel, the daughter of the Rev. Robert Bruce of Garlet, son of the second brother of Bruce of Kennet. This excellent man, the great-grandfather of Dr. Jamieson, suffered persecution as a Presbyterian minister during the troubles of Scotland. Dr. Jamieson’s paternal grandfather was Mr. William Jameson, farmer of Hill House, near Linlithgow, in West Lothian ; a person of respectable connexions, being related to several of the smaller landed proprietors of the county, and to some of the wealthy merchants of the flourishing commercial town of Borrowstounness. But although both his son and his grandson were Seceder ministers, he was himself a strict Episcopalian,—a fact which, from the then prevailing horror of Episcopacy entertained in Scotland, Dr. Jamieson’s father seems to have been unwilling to avow, for the Doctor only learned it at an advanced age from his friend Sir Alexander Seton, who recollected William Jameson of Hill House, as the sole and very zealous churchwarden of his uncle, the vicar of Riccarton, some eighty years before.

In early life, for some reasons which he describes as puerile, instead of following the orthography of his ancestors, he adopted the different spelling of Jamieson, which it was judged best that he should retain; but he made his family resume the original name of Jameson.

The future lexicographer received his first lessons at a school kept by his fathers precentor, named Macnair, a person apparently very incompetent for the task of tuition, and with whom he seems to have been placed more with a view to the advantage of the teacher than of the pupil. After this imperfect course of elementary instruction, and according to the practice then general, and not yet quite obsolete in Scotland, of leaving the English language to shift in a great measure for itself, he was sent in his seventh year to the first class of the Latin grammar-school of Glasgow, then taught by Mr. Bald. He was a master of a stamp not unfrequently met with in those times, being an excellent boon companion, and possessed of great humour, but more than suspected of a leaning in favour of the sons of men of rank, or of those wealthy citizens who occasionally gave him a good dinner, and made liberal Candlemas offerings. This partiality having been manifested by unjustly withholding the highest prize of the class from the not rich Seceder ministers son, as Mr. Bald himself afterwards admitted, the boy was withdrawn at the end of the first year. He was then placed under a private teacher named Selkirk, who is described as a worthy man, and under his guidance and the unremitting care of his father at home he made such progress, that he was deemed fit to enter the first “ Humanity ” or Latin class in the University of Glasgow when only nine years old. Dr. Jamieson, in commenting upon this his very early appearance at the college, gently expresses his regret that his excellent father should have so hurried on his education, and justly remarks, that however vividly impressions may seem to be received by a young mind, they are often so superficial as to be altogether effaced by others which succeed them. The professor of the Humanity class was the Rev. George Muirhead, of whom his pupil entertained the most affectionate recollection, and an “ indelible veneration.” Muirhead was himself a character; and though something of a pedant, an enthusiastic scholar. He entered with his whole soul into the business of his class. Classical reading, but above all, Virgil, was his passion. While a country minister, he had, it was said, purchased a piece of ground to improve in the way prescribed by the “Georgies,” which system of husbandry produced its natural consequences. Once that young Jamieson wished to borrow an amusing, though still a Latin Book, from the library belonging to the class, Muirhead addressed him with considerable sternness :—

“John! why would you waste your time on books of that kind?”

“What would you have me to read?” inquired John, with all humility.

The Professor then replied, with great fervour, and to the utter astonishment of the boy—“Read Virgil, sir; read him night and day—read him eternally!”

That he did so himself was evident from the black and well-thumbed state of his own copy of Virgil. The other professors were glad when the Session closed, that they might either be off in every direction whither inclination led, or left at leisure for any favourite study or pursuit; but “good old George never left the college, and seemed to have no enjoyment save in stalking like a ghost through the courts and piazzas, solitarily occupying the scenes in which all his earthly delight was concentrated.” This “original” boarded with the celebrated brothers Foulis, who, as Printers to the University, were allowed a house within its precincts.

During his second year at the Latin class, young Jamieson also attended the first Greek class, which was then taught by Dr. James Moor, the well-known author of the Greek Grammar which bears his name. Though a man of talent, he was very inferior to Muirhead as a teacher; and his habits were such as to deprive him of that authority over his class which is necessary to maintain order and incite application. To Jamieson, at least, the course was almost entirely lost.

So early in life as this period, the future antiquary was beginning to show a taste for old coins, and other curious objects, on which he expended his pocket-money ; and a vein for poetry at the same time evinced itself. Both predilections were congenial to those of Professor Moor, with whom Jamieson became so far a favourite, that he kindly explained the coins the boy brought to him, and would show him his own valuable collection, acquired while he had travelled with the unfortunate Earl of Kilmarnock. In short, under Moor his pupil seems to have made progress in everything save his proper business, the Greek language. His boyish negligence was partly to be ascribed to the ill-health of his father, who had been struck with palsy, and who subsequently laboured under the effect of repeated shocks. Deeply and repeatedly does the Doctor, in his recollections, regret his idleness—precious time trifled away that could, never be recalled. This regret is, however, oftenest to be found in the mouths of those who, like him, have been the most diligent and unremitting in study and in business, and who best know the value of time.

During his attendance on the prelections of Professor Muirhead, his mind received that bias which influenced the literary pursuits of his after life. “The Professor," he says, “not satisfied with an explanation of the Words of any classical passage, was most anxious to call the attention of his pupils to the peculiar force of the terms that occurred in it; particularly pointing out the shades of signification by which those terms, viewed as synonymous, differed from each other. This mode of illustration, which at that time, I suspect, was by no means common, had a powerful influence in attracting my attention to the classical works, and even to the formation of language in general; and to it I most probably may ascribe that partiality for philological and etymological research in which I have ever since had so. much pleasure. I have yet in my possession some of the notes which I took down, either during the class hours or afterwards, from my first attendance on the Humanity class.”

The precarious state of his father’s health made the studies of an only surviving son, already destined to the ministry, be pushed forward with anxious rapidity. The friendly Professor Muirhead disapproved and remonstrated; but there was too good reason for the precipitance. Jamieson’s father afterwards informed him, that he was much afraid that, having been long a prisoner from complicated disease, he would be early taken away; and, as he had nothing to leave his son, he was most desirous to forward his classical and professional education. He was accordingly next session sent to the Logic class, though, as he remarks, “a boy of eleven years of age was quite unfit for studying the abstractions of logic and metaphysics.” This year also he considers “entirely lost,” and that “it might be blotted out of the calendar of his life.” A second year spent in philosophical studies was employed to little more purpose; and though he now studied under the eminent philosopher, Dr. Reid, he had become, during his father’s continued illness, too much, he says, his own master to make any great progress “either in the Intellectual or Moral Powers.” He took some pleasure in the study of Mathematics; but over Algebra, on which he consumed the midnight oil, the boy, very naturally, often fell asleep. His classical and philosophical studies were certainly begun in very good time; but it is yet more surprising to find the Associate Presbytery of Glasgow admitting him as a student of theology at the age of fourteen! The Professor of Theology among the Seceders at that period was the Rev. William Moncrieff of Alloa, the son of one of the four ministers who had orignally seceded from the 'Church of Scotland, from their hostility to Patronage, and who subsequently founded the Secession Church. Though not, according to his distinguished pupil, a man of extensive erudition, or of great depths of understanding, Moncrieff was possessed with qualities even more essential to the fulfilment of his important office of training young men in those days to the Secession ministry; and from the suavity of his disposition, and the kindness of his manners, he was very popular among his students. After attending Professor Moncrieff for one season at Alloa, young Jamieson attended Professor Anderson (afterwards the founder of the Andersonian Institution) in Glasgow, for Natural Philosophy : for which science he does not seem to have had any taste. While at the Glasgow University, he became a member of the different literary societies formed by the students for mutual improvement. These were then the Eclectic, the Dialectic, and the Academic; and he was successively a member of each of them. Their meetings were held in the college class-rooms, and were well attended by students and visitors; and sometimes the professors graced the ingenuous youths with their presence, as an encouragement to diligence.

The Doctor relates many beautiful instances of the mutual respect and cordial regard which then subsisted among the different denominations of the clergy of Glasgow, and which was peculiarly manifested towards his father during his severe and protracted illness. Comparing modern times with those better days, he says:—

“If matters go on as they have done in our highly favoured country for some time past, there is reason to fear that as little genuine love will be found as there was among the Pharisees, who from sheer influence of party, in a certain sense still *loved one another,’ while they looked on all who differed from them in no other light than they did on Sadducees. May the God of all Grace give a merciful check to this spirit, which is not from Him!”

Dr. Jamieson was himself, throughout the whole course of his life, distinguished by a liberal and truly catholic spirit. His friends and intimate associates were found among Christians of all denominations, though he conscientiously held by his own opinions. If he ever lacked charity, it appears to have been towards the Unitarians, a fact perhaps to be accounted for by his early controversy with Macgill and Dr. Priestly. Episcopalians and Roman Catholics were among his friends, even when his position, as the young minister of a very rigid congregation of Seceders in a country town, made the’ association dangerous to him, as being liable to misconstruction by his flock.

From his earliest years, Dr. Jamieson seems to have had the happy art of making friends of the wise and the worthy, and especially of persons distinguished for natural powers of the mind, or for great literary attainments. He had the no less enviable power of retaining the regard he had attracted, and of disposing every one with whom he came into contact to forward his views, whether these were for personal or public objects. A really remarkable degree of interest seems to have been taken in his prosperity, and in that of his large family, at every period of his life. From boyhood he had been cordially received into what may assuredly be called the best society at that period known in Scotland,—namely, that of eminent friendly professors, clergymen distinguished by talents and piety, and religious families among the ancient gentry.

Dr. Jamieson, while attending the Theological Lectures of Mr. Moncrieff at Alloa, often enjoyed the hospitality of the Rev. Mr. Randall of Stirling, the father of his friend, Dr. Randall Davidson, afterwards of Muirhouse. The worthy minister of Stirling, whom he represents as of a very generous and cordial nature, would fain, as a friend, have advised the young and active-minded student to leave the Secession, and direct his views to the Established Church, which held out a more inviting prospect to a youth of talents; for such Jamieson, even then, must have appeared to strangers. The recommendations of Mr. Randall must have been the more tempting, that the cause of the Secession was then viewed with great dislike, and its adherents exposed to the reproach of the world, which youth bears with so much difficulty. But the strong desire of his father, his own convictions, and every kindly influence that had grown up with him, bound him to that cause; and he stood by it through good and through evil report, nor did he ever repent the sacrifice which he had made.

After he had attained the dignity of a student in Theology, instead of condescending to resume the red gown of the Glasgow student, he repaired to Edinburgh to prosecute his studies, and lived, while there, in the house of his maternal grandfather, Mr. Cleland. He attended the prelections of the eminent Dugald Stewart, then only rising into fame. He also studied the Hebrew language in a private class; and was admitted a member of a Society of Theological Students, who met once a-week in the class-room of the Hebrew Professor in the University. “A man of great learning and piety, adorned by singular modesty!’ was this private Professor, who bore the honorary descriptive title—or nickname —of the Rabbi Robertson. .

During the young student’s residence in Edinburgh, he made many valuable and desirable acquaintances, and acquired some useful friends. Of this number was the venerable Dr. John Erskine, who continued the friend of Jamieson for the remainder of his honoured life. He venerated and loved the Evangelical Dr. Erskine, but he also felt great respect for his Moderate colleague, the celebrated Principal Robertson, the Historian. Robertson was long the leader of the Moderate party in the Church Courts; and though a conscientious Seceder, and one in a manner dedicated from his birth to the service of the Secession Church, young Jamieson, on witnessing the masterly manner in which Robertson conducted business in the Church Courts, felt, in his own words, “That if he were to acknowledge any ecclesiastical leader, or call any man a master in divine matters, he would prefer the Principal in this character to any man he had ever seen; for he conducted business with so much dignity and suavity of manner, that those who followed seemed to be led by a silken cord. He might cajole, but he never cudgelled his troops.”

After attending the Theological class for six sessions, the candidate for the ministry was, at the age of twenty, appointed by the Synod to be taken on trials for license; and in July 1779, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Glasgow. In the Secession Church at that time, when a young man obtained license he was immediately put on duty, and was appointed to preach within the bounds of the presbytery every Sunday in the year. This was indeed a most important part of his training for the regular ministry; though it allowed very little time for the preparation of sermons between the closing of his public theological studies and the commencement of his itinerancy. In the wide district in which Jamieson’s duties lay, there were, at the time, many vacancies, and also the germs of new congregations; so that the scenes of his labours on successive Sabbaths lay often far apart.

Dr. Jamieson’s first appearance as a preacher was at Colmonell, in Carrick in Ayrshire, then a very dreary and poor place. From the first he seems to have been popular, and this small isolated congregation wished to obtain the young preacher as their pastor; but to this he gave no encouragement, deeming it his duty to leave such matters .to the regular authorities, applied to through the forms usual upon such occasions. His next appointment was to the Isle of Bute, and Cowal in Argyle-shire. The picture which he gives of characters and of manners, more than a century ago, and their contrast with those of present times, is not a little striking. The venerable Doctor, in old age, relates, “I found my situation on this beautiful island very comfortable. The place of preaching was in Rothesay. I lodged at a farm-house in the parish of Kingarth; and I never met with more kindness from any man than from--, the minister of the parish.” This was not at all in accordance with the Doctor’s subsequent experiences of the Established ministers in other parishes, and particularly when he came to be settled in Forfar. A nephew of the minister of Kingarth had written from Glasgow, apprizing him of the young Seceder preachers invasion of his parish, and recommending the encroacher to his kindness. The Doctor continues, “I had no sooner taken up my residence than he came to call for me, and urged me in the most strenuous manner to come to his manse. When I expressed my sense of his great kindness, declining to receive the benefit of it as delicately as I could, he told me that if I persisted in my refusal, he would attribute.it solely to bigotry; as he supposed I could have no other reason for preferring the accommodation of a cottage to that of his house, save my unwillingness to reside under the roof of a kirk minister.” To convince him of the reverse, the young Seceder finally agreed to spend one night at the manse ; a proceeding probably somewhat hazardous, from the jealousy of such intercourse sometimes felt by the dissenting flocks. This clergyman belonged to a class of Moderates which has for ever passed away. He went out daily with his dog and gun, and often stepping into the cottage, surprised the Seceder preacher poring over his next Sabbath day’s discourse.

Dr. Jamieson passed over to Cowal in the depth of a severe winter, and was received in a wretched smoky hovel, without even glass to the aperture through which light was received; and there he had to eat, sleep, and study. These were not the palmy days of the Secession Church, whose followers have now reared comfortable and often handsome edifices for worship in every district of Scotland, and provided liberally for the subsistence of their ministers. The young preacher was submitting most christianly or philosophically to dire necessity, when he received a kind invitation from an elderly lady to take up his abode in the mansion of Achavuillin, then belonging to a family of the name of Campbell, though it has long since changed its fine Celtic appellation with its proprietor, and become the modern Castle Toward. There the stranger was treated with the hospitality which characterized the country and the period. The master of the house was then in America with his regiment; for the war of the revolution still raged : but his mother did the honours of his house; and some of the younger inmates even accompanied the preacher to his romantic place of worship, which might have been that of the Druids, once so well known in the same locality. “It was,” says the Doctor, “in the open air, by the side of a rivulet: the congregation being assembled on a slight acclivity, at the bottom of which it ran. I stood in the hollow, having a large moor-stone for my pedestal, the ground being covered with a pretty deep layer of snow, which had fallen in the night. For my canopy I had a pair of blankets stretched on two poles. The situation was sufficiently romantic; for, besides the circumstances already mentioned, the sea flowed behind, and the mountains of Argyleshire terminated the prospect before. Notwithstanding the severity of the weather, I never addressed a more sedate auditory, nor one apparently more devout.”

In the beginning of 1780, Mr. Jamieson was appointed by the Associate Synod (the Supreme Court of the Secession) to itinerate in Perthshire and the neighbouring county of Angus. After preaching for several Sabbaths in Dundee, in which there was then a vacancy, he made so favourable an impression, that the congregation agreed to give him a call to be their pastor. But Forfar, his next preaching station, was to be his resting-place, and for many years an ungenial and dreary sojourn. To Forfar he was at that time, of course, a total stranger ; and in old age he touchingly relates:—“Though I were to live much longer than I have done since that time, I shall never forget the feeling I had in crossing the rising-ground, where I first had a view of this place. I had never seen any part of the country before. The day was cold, the aspect of the country dreary and bleak, and it was partly covered with snow. It seemed to abound with mosses, which gave a desolate appearance to the whole valley under my eye. I paused for a moment, and a pang struck through my heart, while the mortifying query occurred—‘What if this gloomy place should be the bounds of my habitation? And it was the will of the Almighty that it should be so."

The congregation of Forfar was at that time but newly formed, and had never yet had any regular minister, being, by orders of the Presbytery, supplied, as it is termed, from Sabbath to Sabbath by young probationers and others.

Three calls were at the same time subscribed for the popular young preacher; from Forfar, from Dundee, and from Perth, where he was wanted as a second or collegiate minister. The congregation of Dundee was large and comparatively wealthy, but the call was not unanimous.

Either Dundee, or the second charge in Perth, would have been a much more agreeable and advantageous appointment for Mr. Jamieson; but the Synod allotted him the small, poor, and ill-organized congregation of Forfar, which with difficulty managed to allow him a stipend of 50 a-year. It is to be hoped that the motives of the Ecclesiastical Court in this choice were pure, and that, as Perth and Dundee might be considered comparatively safe even with inferior candidates, they were induced, as a matter of policy, to send a popular, active, and able young man to a new locality, where the congregation required to be consolidated. However this might be, Mr. Jamieson felt, and not without some degree of bitterness, that the decision was most unfavourable to him in every respect. He had lived enough in towns, and among the better classes, and had seen enough of the difficulties of his father with a stipend nearly double, to be fully aware of the utter inadequacy of that allowed him. With regard to society, he could maintain little social intercourse with the uneducated persons composing his congregation, and beyond them he was not only without any connexions in the place, but had to contend with coldness and dislike, arising from that prejudice against the Secession before alluded to, and which appears to have been very strong in Forfar. Some ludicrous instances are given of petty persecution from that cause, particularly on the part of the minister of the Established Church, who seems to have considered Jamieson, and the Episcopalian clergyman of the place, as two refractory parishioners, and to have assumed an air of insulting superiority strangely misplaced.

On the whole, it is not easy to conceive a position more trying in every respect than that of the young minister at his outset in Forfar; and a man of less energy, although of equal talents, would probably have been altogether lost in it. There was, however, one bright side : he was affectionately, nay, anxiously wished for by the whole of his congregation; and this unanimity afforded some consolation to him, as well as to his father,—the latter recollecting that, although he had been opposed in his call to Glasgow by only two persons, the two had proved thorns in his side as long as they lived. Besides, Mr. Jamieson knew that he was in the path of duty; and, piously resigning “his lot into the hands of the All-Wise Disposer of events,” with the assurance which followed him through life, “that his gracious Master would provide for him in the way that was best,” he looked forward to the future with firmness.

The struggle was severe at first, but by degrees he became better known and better appreciated. He acknowledged with marked gratitude the obligations he owed, in that respect, to Mr. Dempster of Dunnichen, a gentleman of high character and considerable influence in the county, which he represented for some time in Parliament. This amiable person was his first, and proved through life his fastest friend. Until this acquaintance with Mr. Dempster, which was brought about by an accidental call, his only enjoyment was in visiting at intervals several respectable families in Perth and its neighbourhood, or the hospitable manse of Longforgan in the .Carse of Gowrie, then a residence combining every charm. But the friendship and influence of Mr. Dempster procured similar enjoyments for him nearer home. At Dunnichen, indeed, he was a welcome guest at all times, and there he became acquainted, through the cordial introduction of Mr. Dempster, with all the landed aristocracy of the county. This enlargement of Mr. Jamieson’s circle of social intercourse was further aided and confirmed by his marriage, about a year after his settlement in Forfar, with the daughter of an old and respectable proprietor in the county, Miss Charlotte Watson, youngest daughter of Robert Watson, Esq. of Shielhill in Angus, and of Easter Rhynd in Perthshire. Mr. Jamieson, when very young, had frequently heard a friend speak with affectionate admiration of the family of Shielhill,—of their hospitality, and of their regard for religion,—the latter a quality not very common at the time amongst the landed proprietors of that part of the country. He was thus predisposed to esteem the whole family, some of whom he had, before coming to Forfar, seen in his father's house at Glasgow.

It must have appeared almost madness to think of marriage with so very limited an income, even allowing for the greater value of money at that time ; but the bachelor state was deemed incompatible with the ministry in Scotland ; and, besides, prudential motives do not always prevent a young man from falling in love. The union, however, which soon took place, and which lasted for more than half a century, proved in all respects a most auspicious one. Mr. and Mrs. Jamieson had no doubt for a long period much to contend with from limited means and a very numerous family; but the untiring industry of Mr. Jamieson soon made up for all other deficiencies.

Mr. Jamieson's confidence in Providence, and in his own energies, thus began to reap its reward. To loneliness at home, and indifference if not neglect abroad, there now succeeded strong domestic attractions, and the esteem and regard of respectable neighbours.

Shortly after his marriage, he began to work seriously for. the Press, and he continued for upwards of forty years to be a constant and even voluminous writer. While yet a mere stripling, he composed some pieces of poetry for Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, which we notice only because they were his first appearance as an author. We next find him communicating, in a series of papers to the Literary and Antiquarian Society of Perth, of which he was a member, the fruits of his researches concerning the antiquities of Forfarshire. These papers led Mr. Dempster to recommend his writing a history of the county, and the suggestion gave impulse and direction -to his local inquiries, although it was never fully complied with. But the publication which first seems to have obtained for him some literary reputation, and the character of an orthodox and evangelical minister, was his reply, under the title of “Socinianism Unmasked,” to Dr. Macgill of Ayr, whose peculiar heresy had lately been broached.

This work paved the way for his favourable reception in London, which he visited for the first time in 1788-9. He carried to London with him a collection of sermons, afterwards published under the title of “ Sermons on the Heart,” which became very popular. With the exception of this work, his other writings do not seem to have yielded him in general much profit, although they added to his reputation. Letters given him by Dr. Erskine and others procured for him an extensive acquaintance, particularly in the religious circles and with the evangelical ministers of the metropolis. It was thus he became acquainted with the pious and benevolent Mr. Thornton, father of eccentric Ryland the Baptist minister, John Newton, Venn, and Cecil. There also he found antiquarian and literary associates, while his poem on the “Sorrows of Slavery,” brought him under the notice of the abolitionists, and led to an acquaintance with Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe.

The consideration he enjoyed in these metropolitan circles, and particularly amongst his religious friends, must have been augmented by his “Reply to Priestley,” for which he received the diploma of Doctor of Divinity from the College of New Jersey, the first honour of the kind that had been conferred upon a Seceder.

Dr. Jamieson repeated his visits to London at different times, officiating there for his friend Dr. Jerment, while that gentleman went to see his connexions in Scotland. On these occasions, he extended the circle of his general acquaintance, and appears also to have discovered several distant relations mixing in good society. One of them was a distant female cousin, Lady Strange, the widow of the celebrated engraver, who to her last day took pride in her broad Scotch, and otherwise retained all the warmth of early national feeling. When the Doctor, till then a stranger to her, made his formal obeisance, “the good old lady,” he says, “ran up to me with all the vivacity of fifteen, and taking me in her arms, gave me a hearty embrace.” She was one. of those whose heads and hearts are continually occupied with plans for serving their friends; and her influence, of which she had a good deal, was ever zealously exerted to promote Dr. Jamieson’s interests. One of her schemes was that he should leave the Secession and look for promotion in the Church of England ; but such an idea, it may well be believed, had still less chance of being for a moment harboured by him, than that before mentioned of his entering into the Church of Scotland, although he had now been lingering on for more than a dozen of years on the same pittance of 50 a-year.

During this long lapse of time, his greatest enjoyment, beyond his own fireside, was still found in the society and steady friendship of Mr. Dempster. “Many a happy day,” he writes, “have I spent under the roof of this benevolent man. We walked together ; we rode together; we fished together; we took an occasional ride to examine the remains of antiquity in the adjacent district; and if the weather was bad, we found intellectual employment in the library,—often in tracing the origin of our vernacular words in the continental languages.”

The Doctor had not yet projected his great work, the Dictionary; the first idea of which arose accidentally from the conversation of one of the many distinguished persons whom he met at Mr. Dempsters residence; Dunnichen being long the frequent rendezvous of not merely the most eminent men of Scotland, but of such learned foreigners as from time to time visited the country. This was the learned Grim Thorkelin, Professor of Antiquities in Copenhagen. Up to this period, Dr Jamieson had held the common opinion, that the Scottish is not a language, and nothing more than a corrupt dialect of the English, or at least of the Anglo-Saxon. The'leamed Danish Professor first undeceived him,—though full conviction came tardily,—and proved to his satisfaction that there are many words in our national tongue which never passed through the channel of the Anglo-Saxon, nor were even spoken in England. Before leaving Dunnichen, Thorkelin requested the Doctor to note down for him all the singular words used in that part of the country, no matter how vulgar he might himself consider them; and to give the received meaning of each. Jamieson laughed at the request, saying, “What would you do, Sir, with our vulgar words; they are merely corruptions of English?” Thorkelin, who spoke English fluently, replied with considerable warmth, “If that fantast, Johnson, had said so, I would have forgiven him, because of his ignorance or prejudice; but I cannot make the same excuse for you, when you speak in this contemptuous manner of the language of your country, which is, in fact, more ancient than the English. I have now spent four months in Angus and Sutherland, and I have met with between three and four hundred words purely Gothic, that were never used in Anglo-Saxon. You will admit that I am pretty well acquainted with Gothic. I am a Goth; a native of Iceland, the inhabitants of which are an unmixed race, who speak the same language which their ancestors brought from Norway a thousand years ago. All or most of these words which I have noted down, are familiar to me in my native island. If you do not find out the sense of some of the terms which strike you as singular, send them to me; and I am pretty certain I shall be able to explain them to you.” Jamieson, to oblige the learned stranger, forthwith purchased a two-penny paper book, and began to write down all the remarkable or uncouth words of the district. From such small beginnings, made more than twenty years before any part of the work was published, arose the four large quarto volumes of his Dictionary and Supplement, the revolution in his opinion as to the origin of the Scottish language, and that theory of its origin which he has maintained in the learned Dissertations which accompany the Dictionary.

It would not now be easy, we apprehend, to explain the difficulties, discouragements, and privations under which that great undertaking was prosecuted for a long series of years. The author had now a large family to maintain and to educate, and he was even embarrassed with debts inevitably incurred, while the prospect of remuneration for his labours was distant and uncertain. How he and Mrs. Jamieson struggled through their accumulating difficulties, might probably have puzzled themselves on looking back to explain ; but he was strong in faith, and also active in endeavour.

On the death of Mr. Adam Gib, Dr. Jamieson received a call from the Seceder congregation of Nicolson Street, Edinburgh, to be their minister. But the Synod again opposed both the wishes of the congregation, and Dr. Jamieson’s interests and obvious advantage ; and that, too, at a period when his removal to the capital would have been of the greatest advantage to his literary projects, and to the professional education of his elder sons. He very naturally felt with acuteness this second frustration of his reasonable hopes; but, as before, he quietly submitted. A few years more elapsed, and Mr. Banks, the successor of Mr. Gib, having gone to America, the doctor was again unanimously called, and the Synod then thought fit to authorize his translation. The change from Forfar to Edinburgh was, in every point of view, a happy and auspicious event. His stipend was probably quadrupled at once: he was restored to early connexions and literary society, and obtained every facility for prosecuting his philological and etymological researches. Shortly after this he learnt that the Rev. Mr. Boucher, Vicar of Epsom, was engaged in a work of somewhat similar character; and mutual friends advised that the one should buy the other off, and obtain the accumulated materials for the use of his own work. Any reward for his labours, however inadequate, was then an important consideration with Dr. Jamieson; and for a time he thought of giving up his treasures for 250; but the dislike which he had felt from the beginning, at the idea either of compromise or cooperation, afterwards fortified by suspicions that Mr. Boucher’s view of the Scottish language would degrade it to the level of the English dialects, and the conscientious conduct of the friend of the vicar, the late Bishop Gleig of Stirling, who was too well aware of the real value of Dr. Jamieson’s manuscripts to sanction such a sacrifice, ultimately and happily put a stop to the negotiation. The subsequent death of the Rev. Mr. Boucher, before the publication of his work, left the field clear for our national lexicographer. It is not merely as patriotic natives of Scotland, that we rejoice in this circumstance, but as the friends of sound literature ; and as prizing yet more highly than the learning displayed, that fund of innocent and delightful entertainment and instruction, spread before us in the pages of the Scottish Dictionary;—those imperishable records of our history, our literature, and our usages, which may enable all future generations of our countrymen, and their off-sets in every distant land, to think and feel as ancient Scots; and which will keep open for them the literary treasures of their fathers—the pages of their Burns and Scott, and of those other works which, but for this master-key, must soon become sealed books.

The people of Scotland certainly never took so great an interest in any work that had appeared in their country as they took in the Dictionary. It was every one’s concern; and after the first two volumes had been published, and had set many thousand minds at work to add to, or endeavour to render more perfect,, this national monument, from the palace and the castle to the farm-house and the cottage the learned author found devoted and often able auxiliaries in completing his great undertaking. Those who could not assist him with words, yet circulated his prospectuses, and procured subscribers to the work. Through the interest and exertions of Lord Glenbervie, the duty on the paper for printing the Dictionary was remitted, in virtue of a provision entitling the publishers of works on Northern Literature to a drawback on the paper used. Among his friends of a later period, none were more zealous than the late Duchess of Sutherland* through whose interest or recommendation he was afterwards chosen one of the ten Associates of the Royal Literary Society, instituted by George the Fourth. Each Associate was entitled to a pension of one hundred guineas. The Society* which numbered among its members Coleridge and D’lsraeli, fell with George the Fourth, which occasioned no little disappointment and hardship to some of the Associates. The fact, as it regards Dr. Jamieson, serves to bring to light a circumstance highly honourable to both the parties concerned. The Doctor had by this time, in consequence of advancing age and indifferent health, resigned the charge of his congregation on a retiring salary of 150; and other sources of annual income had been dried up at the same time. He would, therefore, willingly have had the pension restored by Government, and addressed himself to Earl Spencer with that view. The Earl, unable to effect any change in the councils of King William, generously and in the most delicate terms offered to continue the Doctor’s allowance out of his own pocket, and at once sent an order on the house of Sir William Forbes & Co. for the first half-yearly payment. This munificence on the part of a stranger to one having no possible claim upon him, save as a man of letters, whom he might imagine to be placed in difficulties in his old age by a measure of financial economy, made a deep impression on Dr. Jamieson’s mind; and it may well be supposed, that although he declined the proffered assistance, he did so with much feeling, and with expressions of sincere gratitude. The correspondence about this affair must have left warm feelings of mutual regard and satisfaction in the minds of both these excellent men; indeed, so much was this the case, that Earl Spencer left him by will a legacy of 100 per annum, as a mark of his esteem and respect. In 1833 the pension was in Dr. Jamieson’s case restored through some secret court influence; Earl Grey, then Premier, himself announcing that the Doctor had been placed on his Majesty’s Civil List for a pension to the amount of that which he had lost by the dissolution of the Literary Society instituted by George the Fourth.

Dr. Jamieson’s severest affliction had been in seeing the greater part of his numerous family descend to the grave before him : some in infancy and childhood, but others in the prime of life and of usefulness. Of seven sons who reached manhood, only one survived him. Three died in India; of whom two had arrived at distinction in the medical service. His second son, Mr. Robert Jameson, an eminent member of the Scottish bar, long in lucrative practice, and entitled to look forward to the highest honours of his profession, was cut off a few years before his venerable parent. But his last, and the heaviest blow of all, was the loss of Mrs. Jamieson, a lady equally remarkable for the good qualities of her head and of her heart, and who had shared his lot for fifty-five years.

In the latter years of his life, Dr. Jamieson suffered much from bilious attacks, for which he was recommended to try the waters of different noted Spas in Scotland. From such stations as Pitcaithley, the Moffat Wells, or Inverleithen, he was in the habit of making rounds of visits to those families of the neighbouring nobility and gentry who had been among his earlier friends. The banks of the Tweed between Peebles and Berwick had ever been to him a more favourite and familiar haunt than even the banks of his native Clyde; and many of the happiest days of his later summers were spent amidst the lovely scenes of “Tweedside,” and among the friends and relatives which he possessed in that classic district. He had always been fond of angling ; and in the Tweed and its tributary streams, he socially pursued the “gentle craft,” almost to the close of life. Of the houses which he had long been in the habit of visiting on Tweedside, none seems to have left a more indelible impression on his memory than Ashestiel, the happy intermediate residence of Sir Walter Scott, whom Dr. Jamieson had first visited in his little cottage at Lasswade, and,—for the last of many times,—in the lordly halls of Abbotsford only a very short while before Scott went abroad, never again to return—himself.

One of the most important public affairs in which Dr. Jamieson was ever engaged, was bringing about the union of the two branches of the Secession, the Burghers and Antiburghers. Those only who understand the history of these great divisions of the Seceders, and their mutual jealousies and dissensions, can appreciate the difficulty and the value of the service of again uniting them, and the delicacy, sagacity, and tact which it required. To this healing measure, which he had deeply at heart, Dr. Jamieson was greatly instrumental.

Notwithstanding his bilious and nervous disorders, the Doctor seems, considering his laborious and often harassing life, to have enjoyed up to a great age a tolerable measure of health. His “ Recollections ” to which he appears to have added from time to time as memory restored the more interesting events and reminiscences of his earlier years, seem to have terminated abruptly in 1836. He died in his house in George’s Square, Edinburgh, on the 12th of July, 1838, universally regretted, esteemed, and beloved for his learning, piety, and social qualities, and as one of the links which connected Scottish society with the past.

Besides the different books which Dr. Jamieson edited, such as Barbour’s Bruce* and Blind Harry’s Wallace, in two volumes quarto, Slezer’s Theatrum Scotice, with a memoir of the author, and other works,—among the more important of his multifarious original writings are the following:—


Besides these works, he left in MS. carefully prepared for the press, a series of Dissertations on the Reality of the Spirit’s Influence, on which he had been engaged for more than fifty years. Shortly before his death he entrusted the work to two of his dearest friends, and instructed them to dispose of it to the best advantage, and to devote the proceeds to the fund for aiding the orphans and decayed ministers of the Secession. For various reasons the work was not published till 1844, and its success has been very limited.

Dr. Jamieson at different periods received literary honours. He was a member of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries, and long acted as one of its secretaries. He was a member of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh; of the American Antiquarian Society of Boston; and of the Copenhagen Society of Northern Literature; and, while it .existed, he was a Royal Associate of the first class of the Literary Society instituted by George IV. At a comparatively early period of his -career he received, as has been mentioned above, the degree of Doctor in Divinity, with a regular diploma from the College of New Jersey, in the United States of America.


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