Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, was born at
Edinburgh in 172G. He was descended from the family of Stair; his
grandfather, who was Lord Advocate for Scotland during the reign of
George I., being the youngest son of the first Viscount Stair. His
father, who held the office of auditor in the Court of Exchequer, was
Sir James Dalrymple, Bart., of Hailes, and his mother, Lady Christian
Hamilton, a daughter of Thomas, sixth Earl of Haddington.
Young Dalrymple entered upon his studies at Eton,
where he acquired a considerable knowledge of the classics, and was
distinguished by an uniform propriety and rectitude of conduct. He next
revisited his native city, and attended the University. From thence he
repaired to Utrecht, where he studied civil law; and lie finally
returned to Edinburgh in 1746.
It is not certain whether he originally contemplated
following the law as a profession—his genius having manifested a decided
bias for the prosecution of general literature, and an ardent
predilection for antiquarian inquiry. The death of his father, however,
who left his estate heavily encumbered, and a large family to provide
for, speedily determined Sir David in his choice, and he became one of
the Faculty of Advocates in 1748.
His success at the bar was by no means so decisive as
those who knew the extent of his acquirements either could have wished
or expected. A peculiar diffidence of manner, a scrupulously nice
estimate of propriety, and a too rigid attention to formality, tended
materially to limit his practice. His pleadings were always
distinguished by a comprehensive view of the subject; yet, being
addressed more to the understanding than the feelings, they frequently
fell short of producing the effect accomplished by the more flowery,
impassioned, and not infrequently unfair appeals of even his less
Notwithstanding this defect—if defect it may be
called—Sir David practised at the bar, with much reputation, for
eighteen years; and was elevated to the bench, on the death of Lord
Nisbet, in 17G6, when he assumed the title of Lord Hailes. As a judge,
he was distinguished for his critical accumen, unwearied diligence,
unswerving integrity, and a chaste and concise manner of expression,
which, although not the most useful qualification in a pleader, adds
peculiar dignity to the bearing of a judge. It has been remarked,
however, that the same attention to minutiae which adhered to him while
at the bar, continued to mar, in some degree, his usefulness on the
bench, and detracted from that veneration which his other judicial
excellencies would have commanded. In the "Court of Session Garland," by
Boswell, the biographer of Johnson, the hypercritical accuracy of his
lordship is thus alluded to :—
"This cause," cries Hailes, "to judge I can't pretend,
For justice, I perceive, wants an e at the end."
This couplet is said to refer to an actual
occurrence, Lord Hailes having seriously objected to a law-paper wherein
the word justice had been inadvertently spelt without the final e.
As a further instance of the finical nicety and minute accuracy of
his lordship, it may be stated, that, wherever he detected the smallest
literal error, or typographical inaccuracy, in any of the printed papers
laid before him, he never failed to send for the agent in order to
reprimand him; and even when it was explained to his lordship, that the
paper had been printed in the utmost hurry, and that the workmen had
been employed all night upon it, he could not be induced to overlook the
In 1776, he became one of the Lords of Justiciary;
and his conduct as a judge in the criminal court elicited universal
approbation. It had been too much the practice of judges to "throw their
weight into the scale of the Crown," acting more as public
'prosecutors than as impartial arbiters. Not so with Lord Hailes:
his conduct was regulated by a different sense of duty. While he held
the scales of justice, his conduct towards the accused was distinguished
for impartiality; and wherever a doubt arose in the course of a criminal
prosecution, he never failed to give the culprit the benefit of it.
No judge, perhaps, ever presided in a Court of
Justiciary who supported the dignity of his station with greater
propriety, or invested the forms of procedure with greater solemnity.
The manner in which he administered the oaths of court was deeply
impressive. "Rising slowly, from his seat," says his biographer, "with a
gravity peculiary his own, he pronounced the words in a manner so
serious, as to impress the most profligate mind with the conviction that
he was himself awed with the immediate presence of that awful Majesty to
whom the appeal was made. It is perhaps impossible for human vigilance
or sagacity altogether to prevent perjury in courts of justice; but he
was a villain of no common order that could perjure himself in the
presence of Lord Hailes."
High as his lordship stands in the memory of his
country as a judge of the land, he is still better known to the world as
a scholar and an author. Those hours of relaxation from official duties,
which others usually spend in amusement, were sedulously devoted to the
service of literature. His historical researches are peculiarly valuable
; and he was the first writer who threw aside those fictions by which
Scottish history had previously been disfigured. The literary labours of
Lord Hailes extend over a period of thirty-nine years—from the date of
the first publication, in 1751, till the date of his last, in 1790; and
the works issued under his own superintendence amount to almost an equal
Although eminently qualified by his acquirements to
become one of the brightest ornaments of social life, his lordship's
intercourse with society was very limited. Among his many eminent
contemporaries, there were only a few persons with whom he lived on
terms of familiar intercourse; and these were "selected as much on
account of their moral and religious worth as for their genius and
In theology Lord Hailes entertained very different
views from those held by many of his compeers of last century; and the
"French Philosophy," as it was called, found in him a determined
opponent. To the great work of Gibbon, "The Decline and Fall of the
Roman Empire," may be attributed some of his most laborious
translations, in the critical notes to which the false insinuations and
historical inaccuracies of that author are ably exposed.
For some time previous to the year 1790, the
constitution of Lord Hailes had been in a very enfeebled state; yet he
continued to prosecute his favourite studies to the last, aud performed
his duty on the bench till within three days of his death, which
occurred at New Hailes on the 29th November, 1792.
In M'Nish's "Anatomy of Sleep," there is a strange
story relativo to the somnolency of the learned judge, the accuracy of
which is at least doubtful. He seldom passed much time at the
dinner-table; and frequently, long before the other members of the
family had retired, resumed his literary labours at a small table in the
same apartment, without at all feeling disturbed by the conversation
going on. He had a large library at New Hailes; but he always studied
and wrote in the family dining-room.
His lordship was twice married—first to Anne Brown,
only daughter of Lord Coalston, by whom he had two daughters, the eldest
of whom inherited the estate. The estates were destined by the older
titles to the heir-male; but this being merely a "simple tailzie," as it
is called, Lord Hailes had it in his power to alter the succession. A
curious anecdote is related in the "Traditions of Edinburgh" respecting
his lordship's will; but it is not accurate. The conveyance was found,
not by a "female servant" while cleaning out the house in New Street,
but by persons properly authorised, on the first or second day after the
funeral. It was carefully wrapt up in one of the drawers of a small
chest in his lordship's dressing-room.
His second wife, Helen Fergusson, youngest daughter
of Lord Kilkerran, had also one daughter. This lady was married to her
cousin, the grandson of Lord Kilkerran. Having no male issue, the
baronetcy (which is now extinct) descended to his nephew, eldest son of
his brother John Dalrymple, who held the office of Lord Provost of
Edinburgh in 1770 and 1771.
An excellent funeral sermon was preached on his
lordship's death by Dr. Carlyle, of Inveresk, in which he drew a glowing
character of one of the most worthy of all the learned men of last
century, who have done so much honour to Scotland.
"New Hailes, 11th July, 1779.
"Sir,—I received your proposals for publishing
the Natural History of Buffon. To make the work useful, a
confutation of the atheistical parts of it ought to be added in the
notes. Without that addition, it would do great hurt to an ignorant
nation, already too much vitiated by French philosophy. It will be to
make poison cheaper and more pleasant. My revered friend, Professor
Monro, held Buffon in sovereign contempt, and ranged him in the class of
Indian philosophers, with their bull and their tortoise.
"Not many years ago, there was published a book of
travels: it had a ran merely for its French philosophy; for it was
ignorant beyond probability or even imagination. The authors of the
Edinburgh Review were the only persons who, to my knowledge,
confuted it; and yet they were represented as enemies of religion. This
shows that it is dangerous to publish such books as those of Buffon,
when treatises of less merit are admired; and when confutations of such
treatises are overlooked, because the confuters are ill thought of and
traduced. But what can we say of an age which admires the blundering
romances of Raynal? I am, &c.
Lord Hales lived sometime in the Old Mint House, foot
of Toddrick's Wynd; he next occupied a house in what is called "The
Society," Brown's Square; and latterly removed to New Street, on the
north side of the Canongate. His general residence, however, even before
his promotion to the bench, was New Hailes, beautifully situated a
little to the west of Musselburgh, near the starting point of the
Railway to Edinburgh. The house in New Street (No. 23), is now possessed
by Mr. Ruthven, the ingenious improver of the Ruthven printing-press.
The following is a pretty accurate catalogue of his
Sacred Poems, or a Collection of Translations and
Paraphrases from the Holy Scriptures; by various authors. Edinburgh,
1751,12mo. Dedicated to Charles Lord Hope; with a Preface of ten pages.
Proposals for carrying on a certain Public Work in
the City of Edinburgh. Edinburgh, 1751, 12mo.
The Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus the Son of
Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus, 12mo. Edin. 1755.
Select Discourses (in number nine), by John Smith,
late Fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge, 12mo. pp. 291. Edinburgh,
1756; with a Preface of five pages—"many quotations from the learned
languages translated—and notes added, containing allusions to ancient
mythology, and to the erroneous philosophy which prevailed in the days
of the author—various inaccuracies of style have been corrected, and
harsh expressions softened."
World, No. 140. September 4, 1755. A meditation among
Ditto, No. 147. Thursday, October 23, 1755. "Both
these papers are replete with wit and humour; and the last one is
introduced with a high character of it and of the author, by Mr. Moore,
the editor and chief author of the World."
Ditto, No. 204. Thursday, Nov. 25, 1756. "A piece of
admirable wit," on "Good Things, and the propriety of taxing
A Discourse of the unnatural and vile Conspiracy
attempted by John Earl of Gowry and his Brother against his Majesty's
Person, at Saint Johnstoun, upon the 5th of August, 1600. No date
British Songs, Sacred to Love and Virtue. Edin. 1756,
A Sermon, which might have been preached in East
Lothian upon the 25th day of October, 1761, on Acts xxviii. 1, 2. "The
barbarous people showed us no little kindness." Edinburgh, 1761, pp. 25,
12mo. " Occasioned by the country people pillaging the wreck of two
vessels, viz. the Betsy Cunningham, and the Leith packet,
Pitcaim, from London to Leith, cast away on the shore between Dunbar
and North Berwick. All the passengers on board the former, in number
seventeen, perished; five on board the latter, October 16,1761."
Reprinted at Edinburgh, 1794, 8vo. The first edition is scarce.
Memorials and Letters relating to the History of
Britain in the reign of James I., published from the Originals. Glasgow,
1762. Addressed to Philip Yorke, Viscount Roystoun, pp. 151. " From a
collection in the Advocates' Library, by Balfour of Denmyln." An
enlarged edition was printed at Glasgow, 1766, 8vo.
The Works of the ever-memorable Mr. John Hales of
Eton, now first collected together, in 3 vols. Glasgow, 1765; preface of
three pages. Dedicated to William (Warburton), Bishop of Gloucester.
"The edition said to be undertaken with his approbation ; obsolete words
altered, with corrections in spelling and punctuation."
A Specimen of a book entitled Ane Compendious Booke
of Godly and Spiritual Sangs, collectit out of sundrie parts of the
Scripture, with sundrie of other Ballates changed out of Prophaine
Sanges, for avoyding of Sin and Harlotrie, with augmentation of sundrie
Gude and Godly Ballates, not contained in the first edition. Edinburgh,
printed by Andro Hart, 12mo. Edinburgh, 1765, pp. 42; with a Glossary of
Memorials and Letters relating to the History of
Britain in the reign of Charles I., published from the Originals.
Glasgow, 1766, pp. 189. Chiefly collected from the manuscripts of the
Bev. Bobert Wodrow, author of the History of the Church of Scotland.
Inscribed to Bobert Dundas of Arniston, Lord President of the Court of
An Account of the Preservation of Charles
II. after the Battle of Worcester, drawn up by
himself; to which are added, his Letters to several persons. Glasgow,
1766, pp. 190, from the MSS. of Mr. Pepys, dictated to him by the King
himself, and communicated by Dr. Sandby, Master of Magdalen College. The
Letters are collected from various sources and some of them are now
first published. Dedicated to Thomas Holies, Duke of Newcastle,
Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. Some copies have a reprinted
title page, dated Edinburgh, 1801, with one or two additional Letters,
and a Portrait prefixed of General Thomas Dalziel. The Secret
Correspondence between Sir Robert Cecil and James VI.
A Catalogue of the Lords of Session from the
Institution of the College of Justice, in the year 1532, with Historical
Notes. Suurn cuiquo —rependet posteritas. Edinburgh, 1767, 4to. pp. 2G.
A Specimen of Notes on the Statute Law of Scotland. No date, 8vo, very
rare. A Specimen of similar Notes during the Reign of Mary Queen of
Scots. No date, Svo, very rare.
The Private Correspondence of Dr. Francis Atterbury,
Bishop of Rochester, and his friends, in 1725, never before published.
Printed in 1768, 4to. Advertisement, pp. 2. Letters, pp. 10. A facsimile
of the first letter from B. Atterbury to John Cameron of Lochiel
prefixed. An Examination of some of the Arguments for the high Antiquity
of Bcgiam Majestatem; and an Inquiry into the Authenticity of the
Leges Malcolmi. Edinburgh, 1769, 4to, pp. 52.
Historical Memorials concerning the Provincial
Councils of the Scottish Clergy, from the earliest accounts to the Era
of the Reformation. Edinburgh, 17G9, 4to, pp. 41.—Nota, Having no
high opinion of the popularity of his writings, he prefixes to this work
the following motto:—"Si delectamur quuui scribimus, quis est tarn
invidus qui ab eo nos abducat'? sin laboramus, quis est qui aliena?
modum statuat industrial?"—Cicero.
Canons of the Church of Scotland, drawn up in the
Provincial Councils held at Perth, a.d. 1242, and 1269. Edinburgh, 1769,
4to, pp. 48.
Ancient Scottish Poems, published from the MS. of
George Bannatyne, 1568. Edinburgh, 1770, 12mo. Preface, six pages.
Poems, pp. 221, very curious Notes, pp. 92. Glossary, and list of
passages and words not understood, pp. 14.
The Additional Case of Elizabeth, claiming the title
and dignity of Countess of Sutherland. By her Guardians. "Wherein the
facts and arguments in support of her claim are more fully stated, and
the errors in the additional cases for the claimants are detected, 4to.
This singularly learned and able case was subscribed by Alexander
Wedderburn (afterwards Lord Chancellor and Earl of Roslyn) and Sir Adam
Fergusson, but is the well-known work of Lord Hailes. It ought not be
regarded merely as a Law Paper of great ability, but as a Treatise of
profound research into the history and antiquity of many important and
general points of succession and family history. Introduction, pp. 21.
The first four chapters, pp. 70. The fifth and sixth chapters, pp. 177.
Remarks on the History of Scotland. By Sir David Dalrymple.
"Utinam tarn facile verainvenirepossem, quain falsa
Edinburgh, 1773. Inscribed to George Lord Lyttleton,
in nine chapters, pp. 284, 12mo.
Specimen of a Glossary of the Scottish Language. No
date, 8vo. Remarks on the Latin Poems of Dr. Pitcairn, in the Edinburgh
Magazine for February, 1774. Huberti Langueti Epistolae ad Philippum
Accurante D. Dalrymple de Hailes, Eq. Edinburgh,
1776, 8vo. Inscribed to Lord Chief Baron Smythe.—Virorum Eruditorum
testimonia de Langueto, pp. 7. Epistolae, 289. Index Nominum, pp. 41.
Annals of Scotland, from the Accession of Malcolm III., surnamed
Canmore, to the Accession of Eobert I. By Sir David Dalrymple,
Edinburgh, 1776, pp. 311. Appendix, pp. 51. Tables of the Succession of
the Kings of Scotland, from Malcolm III. to Robert I., their marriages,
children, and time of their death; and also of the Kings of England and
France, and of the Popes who were their contemporaries. Chronological
Abridgement of the Volume, pp. 30. The Appendix contains eight
1. Of the Law of Evenus and Mercheta Mulierum, pp.
2. A Commentary on the 22nd Statute of William the Lion, pp. 8.
3. Of the 18th Statute of Alexander III., pp. 5.
4. Bull of Pope Innocent IV., pp 6.
5. Of Walter Stewart Earl of Menteth, 1296, pp. 7.
6. Of M'Duff, slain at Falkirk in 1298, pp. 3.
7. Of the Death of John Comyn, 10th February 1305, pp. 4.
8. Of the Origin of the House of Stewart, pp. 6.
Annals of Scotland, from the Accession of Robert I.
sunamed Brace, to the Accession of the House of Stewart. By Sir David
Dalrymple. Edinburgh, 1779, 4to. pp. 277. Appendix, pp. 54, containing—
1. Of the Manner of the Death of Marjory, daughter of
Robert I., pp. 7.
2. Journal of the Campaign of Edward III., 1327, pp. 9.
3. Of the Genealogy of the Family of Seton in the fourteenth century.
4. List of the Scottish Commanders at the Battle of Hallidon, 19th July,
1383, pp. 11.
5. Whether Edward III. put to Death the Son of Sir Alexander Seton, pp.
6. List of the Scottish Commanders killed or made prisoners at the
Battle of Durham, pp. 8.
7. Table of Kings, p. 1.
8. Corrections and Additions to Volume I., pp. 16.
9. Corrections and Additions to Volume II.,
pp. 8. Chronological Abridgement of the Volume, pp. 39.
Account of the Martyrs of Smyrna and Lyons in the
Second Century, 12mo; with Explanatory Notes. Edinburgh, 1776. Dedicated
to Bishop Hurd, pp. 68. Notes and Illustrations, pp. 142. This is a new
and correct Version of two most ancient Epistles; the one from the
Church at Smyrna to the Church at Philadelphia; the other from the
Christians at Vienne and Lyons to those in Asia and Phrygia—their
antiquity and authenticity are undoubted. Great part of both is
extracted from Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History. The former was first
completely edited by Archbishop Usher. The author of the Notes says of
them, with his usual and singular modesty, "that they will afford little
new or interesting to men of erudition, though they may prove of some
benefit to the unlearn'd reader." But the erudition he possessed in
these branches is so rare, that this notice is unnecessary. They display
much useful learning and ingenious criticism, and breathe the most
ardent zeal, connected with an exemplary knowledge of Christianity.
N.B.—This is the First Volume of the Remains of
Remains of Christian Antiquity; with Explanatory
Notes, Vol. II. Edin., 1778, 12mo. Dedicated
to Dr. Newton, Bishop of Bristol. Preface, pp. 7. This volume
contains—the Trial of Justin Martyr and his Companions, pp. 8; Epistle
of Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria, to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, pp.
16; the Trial and Execution of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, pp. 8; the
Trial and Execution of Fructuosus, Bishop of Tarracona in Spain, and of
his two Deacons, Augurius and Eulogius, pp. 8; the Maiden of Antioch,
pp. 2. These are all newly Translated by Lord Hailes, from Eusebius,
Ambrose, &c. The Notes and Illustrations of this volume extend from pp.
47 to 1G5, and display a most intimate acquaintance with antiquity;
great critical acumen, both in elucidating the sense and detecting
interpolations; and, above all, a fervent and enlightened zeal in
vindicating such sentiments and conduct as are conformable to the word
of God, against the malicious sarcasms of Mr. Gibbon. To this volume is
added an Appendix of twenty-two pages, correcting and vindicating
certain parts of Vol. I.
Remains of Christian Antiquity, Vol. III. Edin.,
1780. Dedicated to Thos. Balguy, D.D. Preface, pp. 2. It contains the
History of the Martyrs of Palestine in the Third Century, Translated
from Eusebius, pp. 94. Notes and Illustrations, pp. 135, in which Mr.
Gibbon again comes, and more frequently, under review. The partiality
and misrepresentations of this popular writer are here exposed in the
calmest and most satisfactory manner.
Octavius; a Dialogue. By Marcus Minucius Felix. Edin.,
1781, pp. 16. Preface.—The speakers are, Coecilius, a Heathen; Octavius,
a Christian, whose arguments prevail with his friend to renounce
Paganism and become a Christian proselyte. Notes and Illustrations, pp.
Of the Manner in which the Persecutors died; a
treatise, by Lactan-tius. Edin., 1782, 8vo. Inscribed to Dr. Porteous,
Bishop of Chester (afterwards Bishop of London). Preface, pp. 37, in
which it is proved that Lactantius is the author. Text, pp. 125. Notes
and Illustrations, pp. 109.
Lactantii Divinarum Institutionum Liber Quintus, seu
de Justitia. 1777, 8vo.
Disquisitions concerning the Antiquities of the
Christian Church. Glasgow, 1783. Inscribed to Dr. Halifax, Bishop of
Gloucester, pp. 194. This small, original, and most excellent work
consists of Six Chapters. Chap. 1. A Commentary on the Conduct and
Character of Gallio,
Acts xviii. 5, 12, 17. Chap. 2. Of the time at which
the Christian Religion became publicly known at Rome. Chap. 3. Cause of
the Persecution of the Christians under Nero. In this the hypothesis of
Mr. Gibbon, Vol. I., 4to. pp. 641, is examined. Chap. 4. Of the eminent
Heathen "Writers, who are said (by Gibbon) to have disregarded or
contemned Christianity, viz., Seneca, Pliny senior, Tacitus, Pliny
junior, Galen, Epictetus, Plutarch, Marcus Antoninus. To the admirers of
Heathen Philosophers, and to those especially who state between them and
the Christian doctrine any consanguinity, this Chapter is earnestly
recommended. Chap. 5. Illustrations of a Conjecture by Gibbon,
respecting the Silence of Dio Cassius concerning the Christians. In this
Chapter, with extreme impartiality, he amplifies and supports an idea of
Mr. Gibbon on this head. Chap. 6. Of the Circumstances respecting
Christianity that are to be found in the Augustan History. It seems very
probable that the close attention which Lord Hailes appears to have
given to such subjects, was in some measure the effect of the mistakes
and partiality of Gibbon. In no one work from 1776—the date of Mr.
Gibbon's first publication—has he omitted to trace this unfair and
insinuating author; but, in 1786, he came forth of set purpose, with the
most able and formidable reply which he has received, entitled, " An
Inquiry into the Secondary Causes which Mr. Gibbon has assigned for the
rapid Growth of Christianity. By Sir David Dalrymple. Edinburgh, 1786;
gratefully and affectionately inscribed to Richard (Hurd), Bishop of
Worcester, 4to. pp. 213. In five Chapters.
Sketch of the Life of John Barclay, 4to, 1786.
Sketch of the Life of John Hamilton, a Secular
Sketch of the Life of Sir James Ramsay, a General
Officer in the Armies of Gustavus Adolphus, King of Sweden, with a head.
Life of George Lesley (an eminent Capuchin Friar in the early part of
the 17th century), 4to, pp. 24. Sketch of the Life of Mark Alexander
Boyd, 4to. Specimen of a Life of James Marquis of Montrose.
These lives were written and published as a specimen
of the manner in which a Biographia Scotica might be executed. With the
exception of the last, they have been reprinted in the Appendix to the
edition of his Annals printed in 1819.
Davidis Humei, Scoti, summi apud suos philosophi, de
vita sua acta, liber singularis; nunc primum Latine redditus. [Edin.]
Adami Smithi, LL.D. ad Gulielmum Strahanum armigernm,
de rebus novissimis Davidis Humei, Epistola, nuuc primum Latine redditta.
[Edin.] 1788, 4to.
The Opinions of Sarah Duchess Dowager of Marlborough,
published from her original MSS. 1788, 12mo, pp. 120 (with a few Foot
Notes by Lord Hailes, in which he corrects the splenetic partiality of
her Grace)—a singularly curious work.