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Lord Woodhouselee, of the Court of Session


Alexander Fraser Tytler was the eldest son of Wm. Tytler, Esq., of Woodhouselee. He was born in Edinburgh in 1747, where he attended the High School for five years, and afterwards studied at a seminary in Kensington, taught by Mr. Elphinston, a man of reputed learning. Here he macle rapid progress in the classics, and distinguished himself in the attainment of various accomplishments, among which drawing and music—tastes he had early imbibed—were not forgotten.

On his return to his native city, about 1765, Mr. Tytler entered on his professional studies at the University, and, in 1770, was called to the bar. The following year he went on a tour to France, in company with his cousin, the late James Ker, Esq., of Blackshiels.

Through his father, Mr. Tytler had been early introduced to literary society in Edinburgh. The friendship of one so much his senior as Lord Karnes, on whose suggestion he undertook a supplementary volume of the "Dictionary of Decisions," was in the highest degree nattering. This work, which he executed with great ability, laid the foundation of his future reputation. It was afterwards enlarged, and published as the third and fourth volume of the Dictionary.

In 1780, he was appointed Joint-Professor of Universal History in the University of Edinburgh; and, on the death of Mr. Pringle, in 1786, became sole Professor. His lectures, embracing a much wider range than had previously been deemed necessary for mere professional purposes, proved so generally popular, that he was induced to publish an abridgement of them —first, in 1782, and subsequently, in a more extended form, under the title of "Elements of General History."

The literary labours in which Mr. Tytler now engaged were of a multifarious nature. Although his name does not appear as one of the "Mirror Club," he was intimately acquainted with almost all the members, and contributed both to the Mirror and Lounger a number of lively and interesting articles. These, it is said, were mostly written at inns, where he happened to be detained occasionally on his journeys. Having become a member of the Royal Society on its institution, he was elected one of the Secretaries; and throughout a series of years continued to interest himself deeply in its management. He was the author of several valuable papers read to the Society, and lent no inconsiderable aid in drawing up the yearly account of its Transactions.

An "Essay on the Principles of Translation," published anonymously by Mr. Tytler, attracted an unusual degree ,of public notice, from a correspondence which ensued between Dr. Campbell, Principal of Marischal College, Aberdeen, and the author; the former asserting that many of the ideas he had promulgated in his "Translation of the Gospels," published a short time before, were appropriated without acknowledgement in the Essay of the latter. Mr. Tytler, however, proved satisfactorily that no such thing as plagiarism could have been the case; and that the extraordinary similarity was alone the result of a unison of sentiment. Of this the Doctor, although at first somewhat sceptical, was so thoroughly satisfied, that a warm friendship between the parties was the agreeable result.

In 1700, Mr. Tytler was appointed Judge-Advocate of Scotland, an office which he filled in the most conscientious manner, performing the duties personally, and in several instances displaying a creditable degree of humanity, by procuring a mitigation of punishment, in cases where the sentence of the courts-martial appeared unnecessarily severe.

In 1792, he succeeded, by the demise of his father, to the estate of Woodhouselee, where he afterwards continued to reside, and for a few years enjoyed the utmost felicity in improving and ornamenting his much-loved paternal residence. A dangerous illness with which he was seized in 1795 nearly proved fatal, and confined biro for a length of time. His hours of convalescence and leisure, however, were sedulously devoted to literary pursuits, and to this period several productions of his pen are referrible.

On the death of Lord Stonefield, in 1801, Mr. Tytler was promoted to the bench; and appointed a Lord of Justiciary in 1811. Shortly after returning from London the following year, whither he had gone to make arrangements respecting some property bequeathed him by his relative, Sir James Craig, Governor-General of British North America, he was attacked by a return of his former disorder. To have the advantage of prompt medical assistance, he was induced to remove from Woodhouselee to Edinburgh; but, notwithstanding every effort, the malady made daily progress. "Feeling that he had not long to live, although perhaps not aware that the period was to be so brief, he desired his coachman to drive him out on the road in the direction of Woodhouselee, the scene of the greater portion of the happiness which he had enjoyed through life, that he might obtain a last sight of his beloved retreat. On coming within view of the well-known grounds, his eyes beamed with a momentary feeling of delight. He returned home—ascended the stairs which led to his study with unwonted vigour—gained the apartment—sank on the floor, and expired without a groan. Lord Woodhouselee died on the 5th January, 1813, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, leaving a name which will not soon be forgotten, and a reputation for taste, talent, and personal worth which will not often be surpassed."

He left several children. One of his sons, Patrick Fraser Tytler, Esq., advocate, has attained considerable reputation \>y a valuable "History of Scotland," and other historical and biographical works.

The following is a list of Lord Woodhouselee's writings:—

Dictionary of Decisions of the Court of Session, vol. iii. and iv\ 1778. Folio.

Plan and Outlines of a Course of Lectures on Universal History, Ancient and Modern, illustrated with Maps of Ancient and Modern Geography, and a Chronological Table. 1782. Afterwards much enlarged, and published under the title of Elements of General History.

Nos. 17, 37, 59, 79, of the Mirror, first published in 1779 and 1780; also Nos. 7, 19, 24, 44, G3, 70, 79, of the Lounger, first published in 1785 and 1786.

Account of the Life and Writings of Dr. John Gregory, prefixed to an edition of his works, published at Edinburgh in 1787.

History of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, making the First Part of the First Volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society, printed in 1787.

Biographical Account of Lord President Dundas, printed in the Second Volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society.

Account of some extraordinary Structures on the tops of Hills in the Highlands, Avith Remarks on the Progress of the Arts among the Ancient Inhabitants of Scotland. Printed iu the Second Volume of the Transactions of the Royal Society.

Essay on the Principles of Translation, 8vo. Published by Caddell, London. Second edition, with additions, 1797. 8vo.

Critical Examination of Mr. Whitaker's Course of Hannibal over the Alps. Published, 1798.

New Edition of Derham's Physico-Theology, with large Notes, and an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author. Published, January, 1798. Ireland Profiting by Example, or the Question whether Scotland has Gained or Lost by a Union, finally discussed, 1799. Remarks on the "Writings and Genius of Allan Ramsay. Prefixed to a new edition of his works, in 2 vols, Svo, edited by the late George Chalmers, Esq. 1S00. Svo. An Essay on Military Law, and the Practice of Courts-Martial. Edinburgh, 1800. 8vo.

Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Henry Home, Lord Karnes. 1807. 2 vol. 4to. Republished in 3 vols. 8vo.

Historical and Critical Essay on the Life and Character of Petrarch. Crown 8vo.


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