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The Scottish Nation

HERON, ROBERT, 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.

      In 1790-91 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 subsistence.

      In his 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 publications are:

      Letters of Literature. Lond. 1784, 8vo.

      Travels 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.

      Arabian Tales; or a Continuation of the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. Translated from the French into English. Edin. 1792, 4 vols. 12mo.

      Elegant 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.

      A New General History of Scotland. Perth, 1794-99, 6 vols. 8vo.

      Letters 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.

      Account of the Life of Muley Liezet, late Emperor of Morocco. Translated from the French. Edin. 1797, 12mo.

      Elements 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.

      Letter to Sir John Sinclair, Bart., on the necessity of an instant Change of Ministry, &c. Edin. 1797, 8v9. Published under the name of Ralph Anderson.

      A New and Complete System of Universal Geography. To which is added, A Philosophical View of Universal History. 1798, 4 vols. 8vo.

      Elements of Chemistry; comprehending all the new and improved Facts and Discoveries in that Science. London, 1800, 8vo.

      A Letter 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.

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