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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Lord Craig, of the Court of Session


The father of his lordship, Dr. William Craig, was one of the ministers of Glasgow, author of "An Essay on the Life of Christ," and two volumes of excellent sermons. William—the subject of Kay's Print— was born in 1745. He studied at the College of Glasgow, where he was distinguished for his classical acquirements. In 1768, he was admitted to the bar, and became intimate with several young persons, chiefly of the same profession, who met once a-week for the improvement of their professional knowledge.

As an advocate Mr. Craig was not so successful as might have been anticipated from his talents. His tastes and habits were perhaps too literary to lead him to legal eminence. He nevertheless had a fair share of business; and, in 1784, when Sir Hay Campbell became Lord Advocate, he and his intimate friends, Blair and Abercromby, were appointed Advocate-deputes. In 1787, he became Sheriff-depute of Ayrshire; and, on the death of Lord Hailes in 1792, took his seat on the bench as Lord Craig. In 1795, he succeeded Lord Henderland as a Commissioner of Justiciary. This situation he held till 1812, when he resigned it on account of declining health; but retained his seat in the Civil Court until his death.

Lord Craig was more distinguished on the bench than he had been at the bar. His conduct was upright and honourable; and to excellent professional talents, and a profound knowledge of law, he joined the most persevering exertion. There were few of his colleagues who despatched more business, or with greater accuracy, than his lordship. His judgments, formed after careful and anxious consideration, were generally clear and well-founded.

The fame, however, of Lord Craig does not rest solely on his character either as a lawyer or a judge. His well known attainments, and especially his connection with "The Mirror" and "The Lounger," have raised his name to an honourable place among the literary characters of his native land. Most of our readers are aware that tho Mirror and Lounger were the joint productions of a club of gentlemen —of whom Henry Mackenzie, author of the "Man of Feeling," was the only individual whose name was made public at the time.

Besides Mackenzie and Lord Craig, the gentlemen connected with the club were—Mr. Alex. Abercromby, afterwards Lord Abercromby (uncle of Lord Dunfermline); Mr. Robert Cullen, afterwards Lord Cullen; Mr. Macleod Bannatyne, afterwards Lord Bannatyne; Mr. George Home [by a strange mistake, in the new edition of Scott's Works this gentleman has been seated on the bench as Lord Wedder-burn], afterwards a Principal Clerk of Session; Mr. William Gordon of Newhall; and Mr. George Ogilvie. The association was at first termed the Tabernacle; but when the resolution of publishing was adopted, it assumed the name of the Mirror Club. To the ninth edition of the Mirror, published in 1792, and the sixth of the Lounger, in 1794, are prefixed the names of the authors. Among the correspondents were—Lord Hailes, Mr. Baron Hume, Mr. Tytler and his Son (Lord Woodhouselee), Professor Richardson, Dr. Beattie, Dr. Henry, and other eminent literary persons.

The origin and progress of the club is related in the concluding number of the Mirror. The object at first contemplated by the contributors was simply that of relaxation from severe studies; and, by committing their thoughts to writing, to improve and extend their tastes on various subjects connected with the belles lettres. Their essays were read at weekly meetings held for the purpose; and for some time no farther extent of publicity was given to the transactions of this club, which generally met in a tavern. The club met sometimes in Clerihugh's, Writers' Court; sometimes in Somers\ opposite the Guard House in the High Street; sometimes in Stewart's oyster house, Old Fishmarket Close; and fully as often, perhaps, in Lucky Dunbar's—a moderate and obscure house, situated in an alley leading betwixt Forrester's and Libberton's Wynd.

Lord Craig (then an advocate) was one of the most zealous members; and with him originated the idea of publishing the essays. Next to those of Mackenzie, the contributions of his lordship were the most numerous; and are distinguished for a chaste and elegant style of composition.

The Mirror commenced in January, 1779, and terminated in May, 1780. It was published weekly; and each number formed a small folio sheet, which was sold at three-half-pence. The thirty-sixth number of this work, written by Lord Craig, "contributed," says Dr. Anderson (Lives of the Poets, vol. ii. p. 273), "in no inconsiderable degree to rescue from oblivion the name and writings of the ingenious and amiable young poet, Michael Bruce." The Lounger, to which Lord Craig also contributed largely, was commenced several years afterwards by the same club of gentlemen; and both periodical work-; have passed through numerous editions, and become standard British classics. In one of the numbers of this periodical work appeared u short review of the first (or Kilmarnock) edition of the poems of Burns.

The notice was written by Henry Mackenzie; and, it may be said with some truth, that this production of the "Man of Feeling" proved the means of deciding the fate, and probably the fame, of the bard. He was an unknown wight, and on the eve of bidding farewell to his native country, when the Lounger, and the kind exertions of Dr. Blacklock, the poet, happily brought him into notice, and procured for him the patronage of the learned and fashionable circles of Edinburgh.

In private life, Lord Craig was much esteemed for his gentle and courteous manners, and the benevolence and hospitality of his disposition. In person he might be reckoned handsome, and was rather above the middle size. A fine portrait of him, in his latter years, by Sir Henry Raeburn, is in the possession of Robert Sym, Esq., George's Square.

Lord Craig never possessed a robust constitution, and fell into bad health several years before his death, which happened at Edinburgh on the 8th July, 1813, in the sixty-eighth year of his age. He resided for many years in George's Square; but latterly removed to York Place. While Sheriff-Depute of Ayrshire, he chiefly occupied a house called Strathaird, on the banks of the Water-of-Ayr.


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