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The Scottish Nation

MUDIE, ROBERT, a voluminous writer, author of ‘The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands,’ and numerous other popular and scientific works, was a native of Forfarshire, and was born in 1777. The son of a country weaver, he received the rudiments of his education at a humble rural school in his native place, about six or seven miles north-west from Dundee. For whatever learning he afterwards possessed, he was solely indebted to his own industry and native vigour of mind, and he furnishes another remarkable example of those individuals who, by the force of their genius, application, and steadiness, have raised themselves from a lowly rank in life, without the aid of either school or college, to a conspicuous position among the higher class of literary and scientific men of their day. In his early youth, he was put to the loom, and plied the shuttle for several years, until he was drawn for the militia. From his boyhood he had evinced an insatiable desire for knowledge of every description, and all the hours which he could spare from his employment as a weaver, or his militiaman’s duties, were devoted to the reading of books. He used to mention that before he left home, he was much indebted to a gentleman who lent him some volumes of the ‘Encyclopedia Britannica,’ in which he indulged at large his taste for variety, and that in the towns where his regiment was stationed he always contrived to find a good supply of books. By the time that his militia service of four years expired, he had attained to so much knowledge that he was emboldened to undertake the duties of a village school in the south of Fife. Besides other accomplishments, we are told, he had acquired considerable skill in the art of drawing, a respectable acquaintance with arithmetic and mathematics, and great facility in English composition. He also wrote verses with ease.

He was soon appointed to the situation of drawing-master in the academy of Inverness, and afterwards in that of Dundee, where he was not long till he was transferred to the department of arithmetic, theoretical and practical, and English composition. At Dundee he remained for about twelve years, and besides contributing much to the local newspaper, and conducting for some time a monthly periodical, he published a novel, called ‘Glenfurgus, in 3 volumes. Becoming a member of the Dundee town council, he engaged eagerly in the cause of burgh reform, in conjunction with R. S. Rintoul, afterwards the editor of the London Spectator.

About 1820, Mr. Mudie left Dundee for London, and at first obtained employment as a parliamentary reporter for the newspapers. He was for some time connected with the Morning Chronicle, and subsequently editor of the Sunday Times. He also contributed largely to several of the periodicals of the day. His life thenceforward was that of a laborious literary hack, and as he wrote with great facility, he produced altogether upwards of ninety volumes, on almost every subject. Many of his works were hastily produced, to provide for the passing wants of the day, and he has been known to throw off a volume of his ‘Seasons’ in eight days. He was an able writer, an expert compiler, an acute and philosophical observer of nature, and particularly happy in his geographical dissertations and works on natural history. With all his acquirements, however, and with all his industry and perseverance, his was but the fate of too many literary men, constant drudging and perpetual poverty, and at last complete bodily exhaustion. He died 29th April 1842, aged 64, leaving the widow of a second marriage in poor circumstances.

In the Appendix to Dr. Hannah’s Life of Dr. Chalmers, a brief account of Mr. Mudie is given by Professor Duncan, of the university of St. Andrews, who was rector of the academy of Dundee, when the subject of this notice was one of the teachers in it. Mr. Mudie was a visitor at the manse of Kilmany in Fife, at the time Dr. Chalmers was minister of that parish, and Dr. Hannah relates, (Life of Chalmers, vol. i. p. 22), that in the autumn of 1811, when that eminent divine was alone at the manse, Mr. Mudie and Mr. Duncan came in upon him from Dundee. On consulting his servant privately, as to what there was for dinner, he found, to his dismay, that there was nothing whatever in the house but two separate parcels of salt fish. Having given particular directions that a portion of each should be boiled apart from the other, he joined his friends, and went out with them to enjoy a walk. On returning to the house, the dinner was served, two large and most promising covered dishes being placed at the head and foot of the table. “And now, gentlemen,” said the host, as the covers were removed, “you have variety to choose among; that is hard fish from St. Andrews, and this is hard fish from Dundee.”

The following is a list of Mr. Mudie’s works, as nearly as can be given:

The Maid of Griban. A poetical Fragment. 1810.
Glenfurgus. A Novel in 3 vols.
First Lines of Zoology. By Question and Answer, for the use of the Young. London, 1831, 12mo.
Modern Athens. A Sketch of Edinburgh Society.
Babylon the Great, a picture of Men and Things in London. 4 vols.
The British Naturalist. 2 vols.
A Popular Guide to the Observation of Nature, forming vol. lxxvii. Of Constable’s Miscellany. London, 1832, 18mo.
First Lines of Natural Philosophy, in 5 parts. London, 1832, 12mo.
The Botanical Annual, 1832.
The Feathered Tribes of the British Islands, 2 vols. London, 1834, 12mo.
Conversations on Modern Philosophy, 2 vols.
The Natural History of Birds. London, 1834, 16to.
The Elements. The Heavens. The Earth. The Air. The Sea. 1835.
Popular Mathematics. Being the first elements of Arithmetic, Algebra, and Geometry, in their Relative Series. London, 1836, 8vo.
The Seasons; or the Causes, Appearances, and Effects of the Seasonal Renovations of Nature, 4 vols. 18mo. London. 1837.
History of Hampshire and the Channel Islands, 3 vols.
Gleanings of Nature, containing fifty-seven groups of Animals and Plants; with popular descriptions of their habits; and coloured engravings. London, 1838, 8vo.
Domesticated Animals popularly considered. Winchester, 16to.
Man in his Physical Structure and Adaptations. London, 1838, 18mo.
Man in his Intellectual Faculties and Adaptations. London 1839, 12mo.
Man in his Relations to Society. 1840, 18mo.
Man as a Moral and Accountable Being. 1840, 18mo.
China and its Resources and Peculiarities, with a View of the Opium Question, and a notice of Assam.
Arithmetic for the Winchester Schools.

He furnished the letterpress to Gilbert’s Modern Atlas; and the greater part of the natural history department of the British Cyclopedia. He was also the literary conductor of the scientific publications called The Surveyor, the Engineer, and the Architect.

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