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The Rev. Alexander Carlyle, D.D., of Inveresh


Dr. Carlyle (born January 26, 1722, died August 25,1805) is memorable as a member—though an inactive one—of the brilliant fraternity of literary men who attracted attention in Scotland during the latter half of the eighteenth century. His father was the minister of Prestonpans. He received his education at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Leyden. While he attended these schools of learning, his elegant and manly accomplishments gained him admission into the most polished circles, at the same time that the superiority of his understanding, and the refinement of his taste, introduced him to the particular notice of men of science and literature. At the breaking out of the insurrection of 1745, being only twenty-three years of age, he thought proper to enrol himself in a body of volunteers, which was raised at Edinburgh to defend the city. This corps was dissolved on the approach of the Highland army, when he retired to his father's house at Prestonpans, where the tide of war soon followed him. Sir John Cope having pitched his camp in the immediate neighbourhood of Prestonpans, the Highlanders attacked him early on the morning of the 21st of September, and soon gained a decisive victory; Carlyle was awoke by an account that the armies were engaged, when, in order to have a view of the action, he hurried to the top of the village steeple, where he arrived only in time to see the regular soldiers flying in all directions to escape the broadswords of the Highlanders.

Having gone through the usual exercises prescribed by the Church of Scotland, he was presented, in 1748, to the living of Inveresk, near Edinburgh. In this situation he remained for the long period of fifty-seven years. His talents as a preacher were of the highest order, and contributed much to introduce into the Scottish pulpit an elegance of manner and delicacy of taste, to which this part of the United Kin°--dom had been formerly a stranger, but of which it has since afforded some brilliant examples. In the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, Dr. Carlyle acted on the moderate side, and, next to Dr. Kobertson, was one of the most instrumental members of that party in reducing the government of the Church to the tranquillity which it experienced almost down to our own time. It was owing chiefly to his active exertions that the clergy of the Church of Scotland, in consideration of their moderate incomes, and of their living in official houses, were exempted from the severe pressure of the house and window tax. With this object in view he spent some time in London, and was introduced at Court, where the elegance of his manners, and the dignity of his appearance, are said to have excited both surprise and admiration. He succeeded in his efforts, though no clause to that purpose was introduced into any Act of Parliament. The ministers were charged annually with the duty, but the collectors received private instructions that no steps should be taken to enforce payment.

Public spirit was a conspicuous part of the character of the Doctor. The love of his country seemed to be the most active principle of his heart, and the direction in which it was guided at a period which seriously menaced the good order of society, was productive of incalculable benefit among those over whom his influence extended. He was so fortunate in his early days as to form an acquaintance with all those celebrated men whose names have added splendour to the literary history of the eighteenth century. Smollett, in his "Expedition of Humphry Clinker," a work in which fact and fiction are curiously blended, mentioned that he owed to Dr. Carlyle his introduction to the literary circles of Edinburgh. After mentioning a list of celebrated names, he adds—"These acquaintances I owe to the friendship of Dr. Carlyle, who wants nothing but inclination to figure with the rest upon paper."

Dr. Carlyle was a particular friend of Mr. Home, the author of Douglas, and that tragedy, if we are not misinformed, was, previous to its being represented, submitted to his revision. It is even stated, although there appears no evidence of the truth of the assertion, that Dr. Carlyle, at a private rehearsal in Mrs. Ward's lodgings in the Canongate, acted the part of Old Norval, Dr. Eobertson performing Lord Randolph—David Hume, Glenalvon, and Dr. Blair!! Anna— Lady Randolph being enacted by the author. He exerted, as may be supposed, his utmost efforts to oppose that violent opposition which was raised against Mr. Home by the puritanical spirit, which, though by that time somewhat mitigated, was still far from being extinguished in this country; and successfully withstood a prosecution before the Church courts for attending the performance of the tragedy of Douglas.

Dr. Carlyle rendered an essential service to literature, in the recovery of Collins' long lost "Ode on the Superstitious of the Highlands." The author, on his death-bed, had mentioned it to Dr. Johnson as the best of his poems, but it was not in his possession, and no search had been able to discover a copy. At'last, Dr. Carlyle found it accidentally among his papers, and presented it to the Eoyal Society of Edinburgh, in the first volume of whose Transactions it was published ; and by the public in general, as well as by the author himself, it has always been numbered among the finest productions of the poet.

It is much to be regretted that Dr. Carlyle favoured the world with so little from his own pen, having published scarcely anything except the Report of the Parish of Inveresk, in Sir John Sinclair's Statistical Account, and some detached pamphlets and sermons. To his pen has been justly attributed "An Ironical Argument, to prove that the tragedy of Douglas ought to be publicly burnt by the hands of the hangman."—Edinburgh, 1757, 8vo, pp. 24. It is understood that Dr. Carlyle left behind him, in manuscript, a very curious Memoir of his time, which, though long delayed, we have now reason to believe will soon in part be given to the world.

With the following description of the personal appearance of Dr. Carlyle, when advanced in years, the proprietor of this work has been favoured by a gentleman to whom the literature of his country owes much:

"He was very tall, and held his head erect like a military man— his face had been very handsome—long venerable gray hair—he was an old man when I met him on a morning visit at the Duke of Buccleuch's at Dalkeith."


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