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Significant Scots
Anderson, Robert M.D.


ANDERSON, ROBERT, M.D. the biographer of Smollett and Johnson, was born on 7th of January, 1750, the son of a feuar in the rural village of Carnwath in Lanarkshire. He received the earlier part of his education in his native place, and in the adjacent village of Libberton; was subsequently placed under the tuition of Mr Robert Thomson, master of the grammar-school of Lanark; and finally studied in the university of Edinburgh, where he commenced attendance upon the divinity class, with the view of becoming a clergyman. He took the degree of M.D. at St. Andrews in 1778. 

In his early years, when pursuing his studies at Carnwath, he could find but one congenial mind in the whole of that rural district; this was an unfortunate youth, named James Graeme, the son of a neighbour, who, after exhibiting considerable power as a poet, died in his twenty-second year, and whose reliques were afterwards included by Dr Anderson, more perhaps through the influence of friendship, than deliberate taste, in his edition of the British poets. Dr Anderson first entered into practice, as surgeon to the Dispensary of Bamborough Castle in Northumberland; he afterwards removed to Alnwick, where he married Miss Gray, daughter of Mr John Gray, a relation of the noble family of that name. The declining state of his wife’s health, which rendered a change of air necessary, induced him, in 1784, to remove to Edinburgh, where he ever afterwards resided. He had here the misfortune to lose his amiable partner, who sank under a consumption, leaving him with three infant daughters. 

Dr Anderson having secured a small independence, practiced no more after this period, but engaged in such literary avocations as he felt to be agreeable to his taste, and became the center of an agreeable coterie, in which the talents of many a youth of genius were for the first time brought into notice. About the year 1793, he began to prepare his edition of the British Poets, which forms thirteen volumes, large octavo, and appeared between the years 1795 to 1807. To the works of each poet is prefixed a biographical memoir by Dr. Anderson. In 1793, he married for his second wife, Miss Dale, daughter of Mr David Dale, schoolmaster of East Lothian. A collection of the works of Smollett, by Dr Anderson, with a memoir prefixed, has gone through eight editions. To the last edition is affixed a highly characteristic likeness of the editor. The memoir has been published repeatedly in a distinct shape, and is a very respectable production. 

Dr Anderson also published a "Life of Dr Samuel Johnson, with crucial observations on his works," which has passed through several editions. For several years before the end of the eighteenth century, Dr Anderson was editor of the Edinburgh Magazine, a rival of the Scots Magazine, more varied and lively in its details, and which afforded him an opportunity of bringing forward the productions of his young friends. This work commenced in the year 1784, and at the end of 1803, was incorporated with the Scots Magazine; it was much indebted to its proprietor, James Sibbald, editor of the Chronicale of Scottish Poetry, to Lord Hailes, and other eminent literary characters. Among the publications which Dr Anderson gave to the world, must be included his edition of "The Works of John Moore, M.D., with Memoirs of his Life and Writings;" Edinburgh, 1820, 7 vls. 8vo; and an edition of the poems of Robert Blair; Edinburgh, 1826, 12 mo. 

The great incident of Dr Anderson’s literary life was his connection with the commencement of the career of Thomas Campbell. When Campbell first visited Edinburgh in 1797, being then in his twentieth year, he gained the friendship of Dr Anderson, who, on being shown a copy of elegiac verses, written by him two years before, when an obscure tutor in Mull, predicted his great success as a poet. It was through Dr Anderson, in 1798, that Campbell was introduced to the circle of his distinguished literary associates in Edinburgh; and he it was who encouraged him by his friendly advice, and assisted him by his critical acumen, in the publication of his celebrated poem, "the Pleasures of Hope," for the high character of which he had, previously to its appearance, pledged his word to the public. In acknowledgement of his friendship, the grateful poet dedicated his work to Dr. Anderson. During the later years of his life, this venerable author, though he indulged as much as ever in literary society, gave no work to the public.

As a literary critic, Dr Anderson was distinguished by a warm sensibility to the beauties of poetry, and by extreme candour. His character as a man was marked by perfect probity in all his dealings, and unshaken constancy in friendship. His manner was lively and bustling; and from his long-continued acquaintance with the literary world, he possessed an unrivalled fund of that species of gossip and anecdote which gives so much pleasure in Boswell’s Life of Johnson.

Dr Anderson died of dropsy in the chest, February 20, 1830, in his eighty-first year.


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