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Significant Scots
James Anderson


ANDERSON, JAMES, an eminent antiquary, was the son of the Rev. Patrick Anderson, who had been ejected for non-conformity at the Restoration, and afterwards suffered imprisonment in the Bass, for preaching in a conventicle at Edinburgh. The subject of this memoir, whose brother, Adam, has already been commemorated, was born, August 5th, 1662, and in 1677, is found studying philosophy in the university of Edinburgh, where, after finishing a scholastic education, he obtained the degree of Master of Arts, on the 27th of May, 1680. He chose the law for his profession, and, after serving an apprenticeship under Sir Hugh Paterson of Bannockburn, was admitted a member of the society of writers to the signet in 1691. In this branch of the legal profession, the study of written antiquities in some measure forces itself upon the practitioner; and it appears that Anderson, though a diligent and able man of business, became in time too fond of the accessory employment to care much for the principal. A circumstance which occurred in 1704, decided his fate by tempting him into the field of antiquarian controversy. The question of the union of the two countries was then very keenly agitated - on the one side with much jealous assertion of the national independency - and on the other, with not only a contempt for the boasts of the Scots, but a revival of the old claims of England for a superiority or paramouncy over their country. A lawyer named Attwood, in 1704, published a pamphlet in which all the exploded pretensions of Edward I. were brought prominently into view, and a direct dominion in the crown of England, asserted over that of Scotland. For this work, Mr Anderson, though altogether unknown to Mr Attwood, was cited as an evidence and eye-witness, to vouch some of the most important original charters and grants by the kings of Scotland, which Attwood maintained were in favour of the point he laboured to establish. Mr Anderson, in consequence of such an appeal, thought himself bound in duty to his country, to publish what he knew of the matter, and to vindicate some of the best of the Scottish kings, who were accused by Attwood of a base and voluntary surrender of their sovereignty. Accordingly, in 1705, he published "An Essay, showing that the crown of Scotland is imperial and independent;" Edinburgh, 8vo. which was so acceptable to his country, that; besides a reward, thanks were voted to him by parliament, to be delivered by the lord Chancellor, in presence of her Majesty's high Commissioner and the Estates; at the same time that Attwood's book, like others of the same nature, was ordered to be burnt at the cross of Edinburgh by the hands of the common hangman. Mr Anderson's publication is now of little value, except for the charters attached to it in the shape of an appendix.

This affair was the crisis of Anderson's fate in life. He had, in the course of his researches for the essay, collected a large mass of national papers; the study of charters was just then beginning to be appreciated by antiquaries; the enthusiasm of the nation was favourable, for the moment, to any undertaking which would show the ancient respectability of its separate system of government. Under all these circumstances, Anderson found it easy to secure the patronage of the Scottish estates towards a design for engraving and publishing a series of facsimiles of the royal charters, previous to the reign of James I., and of seals, medals, and coins, from the earliest to the present time. In November, 1706, he had a parliamentary grant of three hundred pounds towards this object. He then proceeded vigorously with the work, and in March, 1707, had not only expended the three hundred pounds granted by parliament, but five hundred and ninety pounds besides, which he had drawn from his own funds. A committee reported the facts; and the estates, while they approved of his conduct, recommended to the Queen to bestow upon him an additional contribution of one thousand and fifty pounds sterling. Another parliamentary act of grace - and one of the very last proceedings of the Scottish estates - was to recommend him to the Queen "as a person meriting her gracious favour, in conferring any office or trust upon him, as her Majesty in her royal wisdom, shall think fit."

Quite intoxicated with this success, Anderson now gave up his profession, and, resolving to devote himself entirely to the national service as an antiquary, removed to London, in order to superintend the progress of his work. The event only added another proof to what is already abundantly clear - that scarcely any prospects in the precarious fields of literature, ought to tempt a man altogether to resign a professional means of subsistence. The money voted by the expiring parliament is said to have never been paid; - the British senate perhaps considering itself not the proper heir of the Scottish estates. Apparently in lieu of money, he was favoured, in 1715, with the appointment of postmaster general for Scotland; but of this he was deprived in little more than two years. What progress he now made, with his great work is not very clearly known. He is found, in 1718, advertising that those who might wish to encourage it "could see specimens at his house, above the post-office in Edinburgh." As the expense of engraving must have borne hard upon his diminished resources, he would appear to have digressed for some years into an employment of a kindred nature, attended with greater facilities of publication. In 1727, he published the two first volumes of his well known "Collections relating to the History of Mary, Queen of Scotland," Edinburgh, 4to, which was speedily completed by the addition of two other volumes. This work contains a large mass of valuable original documents connected with the Marian controversy; but George Chalmers, who went over the same ground, insinuates that there is too much reason to suspect his honesty as a transcriber. If the prejudices of the two men are fairly balanced against the reputations which they respectively bear as antiquaries, we must acknowledge that the charge may not be altogether groundless.

Anderson died in 1728 of a stroke of apoplexy, leaving his great work unfinished. The plates were sold, in 1729, by auction, at 530, and it was not till 1737 that the work appeared, under the title of "Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus," the whole being under the care of the celebrated Thomas Ruddiman, who added a most elaborate preface.


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