a voluminous miscellaneous writer, the son of a weaver, was born in
the burgh of New Galloway, Kirkcudbright, November 6, 1764. His
grandmother, Margaret Murray, was the aunt of the celebrated
linguist, Dr. Alexander Murray. He was educated at home till he was
nine years of age, when he was sent to the parish school. When very
young he became master of the parochial school of Kelton, in which
he continued two years. In 1780 he entered as a student at the
university of Edinburgh, with the view of studying for the church;
supporting himself principally by private teaching and by
translating for the booksellers, chiefly from French works. In 1784
he published ‘Letters of Literature,’ and in 1789 he edited a small
edition of ‘Thomason’s Seasons,’ with a critique on the genius and
writings of that eminent poet; which, at a subsequent period, was
extended into an elaborate treatise, prefixed to a splendid edition
of the same work, published at Perth.
Mr. Heron read lectures on law, and on municipal jurisprudence,
intended to assist unprofessional persons in what he called “The
Understanding of History,” but not succeeding, they were soon
discontinued. He afterwards published a syllabus of the entire
course. From his imprudent habits and extravagant style of living he
contracted a number of debts, which led to his incarceration. With
the view of obtaining his release, he engaged to write a ‘History of
Scotland,‘ in six volumes, for Messrs. Morrison of Perth, at the
rate of three guineas a sheet; and by the intercession of some of
his friends, his creditors agreed to liberate him for fifteen
shillings in the pound, to be secured on two-thirds of the
copyright. The first volume, nearly the whole of which was written
in gaol, was published in 1794, and a volume came out every year
successively, till the work was completed. In 1797 he brought out at
Edinburgh an interesting ‘Memoir of Robert Burns,’ which has been
much quoted; and in 1798 ‘A New and Complete System of Universal
Geography,’ in 4 vols. Besides these and a variety of other works, a
list of which is given below, he contributed a variety of papers to
the Edinburgh Magazine and other periodicals. A Comic Drama, in Two
Acts, which, he says, he wrote in great haste, called ‘St. Kilda in
Edinburgh, or News from Camperdown,’ was produced at the theatre in
that city, but summarily condemned for its licentiousness. He
afterwards published his unlucky play, with an angry preface, in
which he imputes the blame of its rejection to the stupidity of the
audience. It met, however, with no sale. Mr. Heron was long engaged
by Sir John Sinclair in the management of ‘The Statistical Account
of Scotland,’ and executed his task with fidelity and judgment.
In 1799 he
went to London, where, at first, he found constant occupation, and
applied himself to his labours with unremitting industry. He wrote a
great multiplicity of articles in almost every branch of literature,
and his communications appeared in most of the principal magazines
and other periodical works of that period. He also became editor of
different newspapers, including the Globe and British Press, and was
for some time employed as a reporter of the debates in parliament.
Unfortunately, however, his success had but the effect of leading
him into his former habits of extravagance. When in possession of
money he spent his days in idleness and recreation, and only resumed
his pen when compelled by hard necessity to provide for his daily
latter years he was reduced, as he himself tells us, “to the very
extremity of bodily and pecuniary distress.” Being consigned by his
creditors to the jail of Newgate, he was induced, February 2, 1807,
to make an appeal to the Literary Fund for aid. His pathetic
petition on the occasion will be found inserted in ‘D’Israeli’s
Calamities of Authors.’ Reduced by want and sickness to nearly the
point of death, he was removed to the Fever Hospital, in St. Pancras,
where, in the course of a week, he died, April 13, 1807. – His
Literature. Lond. 1784, 8vo.
through Arabia and other countries in the East, performed by M.
Niebuhr, in the service of the King of Denmark; with notes, maps and
engravings. London, 1792, 2 vols. 8vo.
Tales; or a Continuation of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Translated from the French into English. Edin. 1792, 4 vols. 12mo.
Extracts of Natural History; with a Preface containing some Hints on
Education. Edin. 1792, 2 vols. 8vo.
Observations made in a Journey through the Western Counties of
Scotland, in 1792, Perth, 1793, 2 vols. 8vo.
General History of Scotland. Perth, 1794-99, 6 vols. 8vo.
which passed between General Dumourier and Pache, Minister at War to
the French Republic, during the Campaign in the Netherlands in 1792.
Translated from the original French. Lond. 1794, 12mo.
Information concerning the Strength, Views, and Interests of the
Powers presently at War. Edin. 1794, 8vo.
the Life of Muley Liezet, late Emperor of Morocco. Translated from
the French. Edin. 1797, 12mo.
of Chemistry and Natural History. To which is prefixed, The
Philosophy of Chemistry, by A. F. Fourcroy. Translated from the
fourth edition of the original Work. Lond. 1797, 4 vols. 8vo.
Sir John Sinclair, Bart., on the necessity of an instant Change of
Ministry, &c. Edin. 1797, 8v9. Published under the name of Ralph
A New and
Complete System of Universal Geography. To which is added, A
Philosophical View of Universal History. 1798, 4 vols. 8vo.
of Chemistry; comprehending all the new and improved Facts and
Discoveries in that Science. London, 1800, 8vo.
to William Wilberforce, Esq., M.P., on the Justice and Expediency of
Slavery and the Slave Trade, and on the best means to improve the
Manners and Condition of the Negroes in the West Indies. Lond. 1806.