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Significant Scots
Buchanan, Claudius


BUCHANAN, CLAUDIUS, D. D. Few persons have engaged with greater zeal, or met with greater success, in the business of the civilization of India, in spreading the knowledge of the Christian Religion through the eastern world, and in making Europeans better acquainted with that interesting country, than the Rev. Dr. Buchanan, who was born at Cambuslang, on the 12th March, 1766. His father, Alexander Buchanan, followed the honourable profession of a school-master; and if we may judge from his success in life, he appears to have been a man of some abilities, and better qualified than ordinary teachers for the discharge of the peculiar duties of his office. Before his death, he was Rector of the Grammar School of Falkirk. His mother's name was -- Somers, daughter of Mr. Claudius Somers, who was an elder in the parish of Cambuslang. He is represented as having been one of those who received their first impressions of religion under the ministry of the Rev. Mr. M'Culloch, the parish minister, and which were confirmed afterwards by the celebrated Mr. George Whitfield. A certain class of Scottish dissenters publicly declared, that all such impressions were a delusion of the devil, and in the most abusive language reviled Whitfield, and all who defended his cause. But be this as it may, Mr. Somers and a good many others became reformed characters; and during the course of a long life, gave undeniable evidence that they were better moral men and better members of society.

In 1773, Dr. Buchanan was sent to Inverary, in the shire of Argyle, where he remained under the care of his father's relations till 1779. He was early sent to school; and besides being taught to read English, to write, and cast accounts, he was initiated into a knowledge of Latin. When only fourteen years of age, he was engaged to be tutor to the two sons of Campbell of Dunstaffnage. It is by no means an uncommon case in Scotland for young men to be employed, at that tender age, as domestic tutors in remote parts of the country, and at a distance from any school. He continued in this situation for two years, and then repaired to the university of Glasgow, in 1782. Here his funds permitted him to remain only for two sessions. In 1784, he went to the island of Islay, and was tutor in the family of Mr. Campbell of Knockmelly. In the following year he removed to Carradell, in Kintyre, as tutor to Mr. Campbell of Carradell. In 1786 he returned to Glasgow College, with the intention of prosecuting his studies there, preparatory to his commencing the study of divinity; for it had always been his intention to be a clergyman of the Church of Scotland. At the end of the session, however, he was struck with the strange and romantic idea of making a tour of Europe on foot. He seems to have been highly delighted with Dr. Goldsmith's poetry, and particularly with his Traveller. Having perused some accounts of Goldsmith's adventures, he became inspired with a wish to attempt something of the same kind. He could not, like the poet of Auburn, play on the flute, but he was a tolerable performer on the fiddle, and he foolishly imagined, that with its assistance, he might be able to accomplish what he had so much at heart. He was a pretty good player of Scotch reels; and with this slender recommendation, and hardly any other provision against want, he determined to sally forth.

He accordingly left Edinburgh in the month of August, 1787. He had carefully concealed his design from his parents, lest it should be the occasion of giving them pain, for he seems to have been well aware in what light his imprudence would be viewed by others. What road he took, or how long he was on his journey between Edinburgh and Newcastle, is not known. But he arrived there, as it would seem, sufficiently disgusted with his undertaking; for, instead of directing his course to the capital by land, he embarked in a collier at North Shields, and sailed for the metropolis, where he arrived on the 2d of September. Here he was as much, if not more at a loss, than ever. At last, seeing an advertisement in a paper, that a clerk was wanted, after having suffered incredibly from hunger and cold, he applied and obtained this paltry appointment. By habits of industry and attention to business, he recommended himself to his employer, and after various incidents he at last engaged in the service of a solicitor, with whom he remained for nearly three years.

This employment, though exceedingly trifling, was sufficient to supply him food and clothes. He describes himself, at this period, as having little or no sense of religion upon his mind. He did not attend church regularly; and the Sunday was generally spent in idleness, though at no time of his life was he given to habits of dissipation. About this time he got acquainted with the Rev. John Newton of St Mary's, Woolnoth, London, the friend of Cowper, who introduced him to the celebrated Henry Thornton. This latter person, whose heart and fortune were alike bounteous, was the chief occasion of his being afterwards so successful and distinguished in life. As Mr. Buchanan had now formed the resolution of becoming a clergyman, though he could not regularly enter the church of England, for want of a university education, Mr. Thornton offered him the Chaplaincy of the Sierra Leone company, in which association he bore a leading part. The appointment was accepted by Mr. Buchanan, but, for some unknown reason, was not acted upon. Mr. Thornton, however, generously resolved not to leave his ward destitute or unprovided. He sent him to Queens' College, Cambridge, which was then conducted by his friend Dr. Milner, Dean of Carlisle. Mr. Buchanan was admitted into this Society in 1791, and in the 25th year of his age. It has been mentioned, that he was two sessions at the university of Glasgow, but it may be doubted whether this was of essential service to him, so different are the regulations, customs, and habits of the two establishments. He was disposed to enter as a Sizar, that is a scholar of the lowest rank, the same as Servitor at Oxford; but it was arranged that he should be admitted as a pensioner, or a scholar who pays for his Commons. He distinguished himself at College by great assiduity, and though his mind does not appear to have had any particular bent to the science of quantity, he devoted some attention to the favourite pursuit of the university, the higher branches of mathematics. Having got a theme or subject to write upon in Latin, he succeeded so well as to gain the most marked commendation of his superiors; and he was appointed to declaim in Latin upon the 5th of November, which is always esteemed by the students as a singular honour – this day being one of the most solemn festivals of the year. He was also appointed, about the same time, Librarian to the College, an office of which the duties were more honourable than severe; and he was the senior wrangler of his year.

About the year 1794, the Rev. John Newton proposed to him a voyage to India. The precise nature of this proposal is not stated; but it might only be a hint to him to turn in his mind how he would relish such an appointment. His education being now complete, he was, in September, 1795, regularly ordained deacon of the church of England, by Bishop Porteous. He was immediately admitted curate to Mr. Newton, which was his first appointment. On 30th March, 1796, he was appointed Chaplain to the East India Company, through the interest of the director, Mr. Charles Grant, who continued to patronise him through life. Dr Milner and others now recommended him a second time to the Bishop of London, from whom he received Priest's orders, so that he was qualified to accept of any situation in the English establishment. In the month of May he went to Scotland, in order to take leave of his relations before setting out for India. He immediately returned to England, and left Portsmouth for Bengal, 11th August 1796. Landing at Calcutta, he was soon sent into the interior to Barrackpore, where he resided for some time. India was to him a scene perfectly new; at this period hardly any decency was observed in the outward relations of life. There was no divine service at Barrackpore, and horse-racing was practised on Sunday. Of course it was an excellent field for the exertions of a Christian minister. Mr. Buchanan having been appointed third chaplain to the presidency in Calcutta, by Lord Mornington, preached so much to the satisfaction of his audience, that he received thanks from the Governor General in council. The plan of a Collegiate Institution had been for some time under the consideration of his lordship. In 1800, it was formally established by a minute in council, and vested in a provost and vice-provost, with three other officers. There were also to be established professorships in the languages spoken in India, in Hindoo, and Mahomedan laws, in the negotiations and laws enacted at the several presidencies for the civil government of the British territories - in Political Economy, Commercial institutions and interests of the East India Company, and in various branches of literature and science. Some of the learned natives attached to the college, were employed in teaching the students, others in making translations, and others in composing original works in the Oriental tongues. This institution, which has been of immense service to British India, was called the College of Fort William. Mr. Buchanan was professor of the Greek, Latin, and English classics. The translation of the original Scriptures from the originals into modern languages had always been with him a favourite scheme. To effect a similar purpose, he proposed prizes to be competed for by the universities, and some of the public schools in the United Kingdom. These were afterwards more fully explained in a memoir by him, in 1805. A translation of the Bible into the Chinese language was also patronized by him. In the course of the same year, he wrote an account of the College of Fort William; and the University of Glasgow conferred upon him the degree of D. D.

In May, 1806, he undertook a journey to the coast of Malabar, and returned to Calcutta in 1807. He paid a second visit to Malabar, and powerfully assisted in procuring a version of the Scriptures into Malaysian. In March, 1808, he undertook a voyage to Europe. Second prizes of L.500 each were offered by him to Oxford and Cambridge; and in pursuance of his proposals, sermons were preached at both universities.

In September, 1808; Dr Buchanan undertook a journey into Scotland, where he had the gratification of finding his mother in good health. He preached in the episcopal chapel at Glasgow, and mentions that the people came in crowds to hear him, "notwithstanding the organ." He observed a more tolerant spirit among the different orders of religion in Scotland than what formerly prevailed. On his return, he preached, at Bristol, his celebrated sermon, "The Star in the East," which was the first of that series of able and well-directed efforts by which, in pursuance of a resolution formed in India, he endeavoured to cherish and extend the interest he had already excited for the promotion of Christianity in the east. In spring, 1809, he spent some days at Oxford, collating oriental versions of the bible. He next paid a visit to Cambridge, where he deposited some valuable biblical manuscripts, which he had collected in India. The university honoured him with the degree of D.D. About this period, he preached regularly for some time in Wilbeck chapel, London, after which he retired to Kirby Hall, in Yorkshire, the seat of his father-in-law, Henry Thompson, Esq. His health now began to decline, and as he was advised by his physicians to study less unremittingly, he formed the idea of uniting the recovery of his health, and some share of continued usefulness, by travelling to the Holy Land, and endeavoring to re-establish the gospel on its native ground. This design, however, he never executed. Various paralytic affections, which, one after another, fell upon his frame, admonished, him that the day of active exertion with him was past. He was nevertheless about, within the course of a few years, to publish the following works: 1, Three Jubilee Sermons; 2. Annual Missionary Sermon, before the Church Missionary Society, June 12, 1810; 3, Commencement Sermons at Cambridge; 4, Christian Researches in Asia; 5, Sketch of an Ecclesiastical Establishment for British India; 6, Colonial Ecclesiastical Establishment.

He had been twice married, but survived both of his spouses. He ultimately went to reside at Cheshunt in Hertfordshire, to superintend a Syriac edition of the New Testament. Here he died, February 9, 1815, while his task was still incomplete, at the early age of forty-eight. The exertions of this amiable and exemplary man in propagating the Christian religion in India, will long keep his name in grateful remembrance, among all to whom the interests of religion are in the least endeared.


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