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
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
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
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
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
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
The following is a list of Lord Woodhouselee's
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.