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Significant Scots
James Calder


The demise of the latest survivor of a band of Reformers—who, though they may have “fallen upon evil times," have not been passed over altogether uncommemorated in our columns—induces us to present a few particulars from the notes, with which a kind friend has been pleased to furnish us of the life of the late James Calder. This able and unobtrusive coadjutor of Muir, Gerald, Skirving, and the other sufferers of our dark age of politics, died on the 20th of December last, in the 73d year of his age, after having passed through a life of strange vicissitude, in which were commingled successful study, political intrepidity, the adventures of a prisoner of war, and a connexion of some distinction with the public press.

Our informant, who appears to have been at considerable pains to collect from authentic sources the particulars with which he has favoured us respecting this eminent patriot, states that the birth of James Calder took place at Cromarty, 20th December, 1773.

A remarkable and even mysterious circumstance, one at least which was readily enough regarded as such towards the close of last century in the North of Scotland, is related as having occurred to Donald Calder, the father of the subject of our present notice, and which actually led to his becoming the founder of the town of Invergordon. It would seem that when, but a herd boy in Mojgtyshire, of about twelve years of age, Donald Calder dreamed that he was “set up” in business in a strange place—one which he had never beheld with his eyes—but of which the appearance became indelibly impressed on his memory. The young herd boy grew up to he a man, and the young man became a pedlar, and the pedlar ultimately settled down in business in the town of Cromarty; hut the town of Cromarty was not the scene of his unforgotten vision; and it was while accidentally passing over the spot where the town of Invergordon now stands, that Donald Calder, recognising to his amazement the very landscape of his early dream, felt as if required by destiny to realise the prophetic intimation which had filled his mind since a boy. Of a sanguine temperament, deeply tinged with religious enthusiasm, Donald Calder felt little difficulty in accepting the vision, and relative discovery of its locality, as a call of fate; and he consequently applied to Sir John Gordon of Invergordon for liberty to found a town upon the site. Sir John at first naturally looked upon the project of the senior Calder as chimerical; for within the circuit of eleven miles round there existed hut a few farm houses, whose scattered inmates could not promise much resort to the future “town.” At length he granted a piece of land to Mr. Calder, who did not hesitate to erect a warehouse upon the feu, and even to stock it with a supply of articles suitable to the wants of the neighbourhood. He would appear to have met, with some degree of success up this unpromising undertaking; for another, and another mercantile establishment speedily began to appear in the place, which was soon crowded with habitations, until out of this small and singular beginning arose the town or village of Invergordon.

James Calder was the eldest son of this enterprising and substantial country merchant. At an early age he manifested extraordinary abilities; for when at nine years of age, removed from the school of Cromarty to Fort George, in which fortress his maternal uncle, the Rev. James Stalker, was chaplain, he was able to write the Latin language with ease, as well as to converse in it with fluency. His education at Fort George became partially of a military character. It does not appear, however, that this was with any view to his ultimately joining the army. He was at all events, ere long, entered as an Alumnus of King’s College, Aberdeen, and there contracted an acquaintance with several persons, who subsequently rose to eminence and distinction, amongst whom we may mention the late Right Hon. Sir James Mackintosh. Young Calder became an especial favourite, too, of Dr. Beattie, author of “The Minstrel,” who expressed himself “surprised and delighted” to find his lectures taken down in short hand by a lad of fifteen. .

It was at Aberdeen that James Calder made his public debut as a Reformer. His perusal of some of Mr. Fox’s speeches is said to have determined the bias of his career. And “the boy Calder,” as he was termed, soon became conspicuous for the dissemination of liberal principles in a neighbourhood where Reformers were scarcely to he found. The dismay and annoyance of the Tory gentlemen at the hold and unexpected declarations of the youth were evinced in the epithet—“the boy Calder”—which they sought to attach to his name.

The Reformers of Edinburgh were, therefore, somewhat prepared to receive into their confidence “the boy Calder,” when he proceeded to Edinburgh, in the eighteenth year of his age. Ho attended the law classes of the metropolis ; and as was, and is, the custom with young men in this position, was at the same time clerk in the office of a Writer to the Signet. This person and his chief clerk (not Mr. Calder) are supposed to have been ingloriously immortalised by Sir Walter Scott in one of his Novels.

James Calder had destined himself to the bar, to which there is no reason to doubt that he would have attained, could he have brought his mind to consent to abandon the cause of Reform. His excellent private character and amiable disposition had, notwithstanding a difference of politics, endeared him to several persons of station and influence, who earnestly counselled him to renounce his political principles for the prospect of professional success. Even in the Lord Provost, by whom the meetings of tho Edinburgh Convention were dispersed, Calder had a friend. And our informant possessed the assurance of the late Mr. M'Leod, of Cadboll, that Calder was singularly esteemed, even by political opponents. We may, while recounting these facts, revert to a defence of Mr. Calder, which, we are happy to learn, afforded him great satisfaction at the time of its appearance, against the misrepresentations in Miller’s “Sketches and Legends of the North of Scotland.” These misrepresentations caused him much annoyance, from his being described as “a wild and furions democrat—the terror of the surrounding country,” which can hardly be reconciled to the fact of his haring remained on terms of intimacy with all the principal families of the neighbourhood. The author of this book could hare had no object to serve in making statements calculated to injure Mr. Calder, or to cause him pain. His political principles were probably identical with those of the “wild and furious democrat,” whom he knew only by report; but often the report of persons who are to be benefited by political struggles concerning men who make them, is characterised by no quality less than that of gratitude.

No prospect of professional advancement proved adequate to induce young Calder to act, as he had, at variance with the dictates of his conscience; and, in April, 1793, he joined the “British Convention of Delegates of Friends of the People,” sitting in Edinburgh; and, notwithstanding his youth, soon became signalised as one of its leading members. In November of the same year he was appointed one of a committee of four members, selected to devise means for the diffusion of political knowledge in the Highlands of Scotland.

On the dispersion of the Convention by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and a body of Constabulary, 6th December, 1793, Calder moved an adjournment to the Canongate. But the Reformers being traced thither also, their Committee resolved upon varying their place of meeting on each occasion; and to Calder was assigned the task of selecting places appropriate for the purpose. A circumstance of a rather ludicrous kind, in one instance, ensued. Mr. Calder having engaged for the place of meeting a cabinetmaker’s workshop, situated in Nicolson Street, the Committee of the Convention appeared, seated at the worktables and benches, amidst a profusion of the workmen’s tools, including adzes, hatchets, mallets, and hammers, when the sheriff of the county and two officers, by whom the meeting had been discovered, suddenly burst into the room. A single glimpse at the implements strewed around struck terror and consternation to the hearts of the officials, and assuming that they should instantly be attacked, they fled precipitately from the scene—spreading abroad their protestations that all the members were armed. With the aid of a suitable reinforcement, the meeting, however, was as quietly dispersed as on any previous occasion.

Calder himself, while at home on a visit, was, sometime afterwards, apprehended on a charge of sedition in virtue of a sheriff’s warrant. The execution of the warrant had been, somewhat irregularly, committed to the military force instead of the civil power; and Calder was arrested by a corporal and two privates of the Sutherland Fencibles. Whilst on the march with his escort towards the gaol of Tain, he charmed the whole party so effectually by his conversation, that they abandoned all desire to be instrumental in his detention, and, reckless of the risk they themselves would have incurred had they been found guilty of a breach of duty, the captors actually sauntered apart from the prisoner, to afford an opportunity for his escape. Calder evinced no anxiety to avail himself of this chance of liberty; and the hot-blooded Highland corporal, provoked at his seeming obtuseness, even ventured so far, in the height of his magnanimity, as to run hastily up to him, exclaiming in Gaelic—“Can’t you run, man! can’t you run!” Mr. Calder used to relate that it cost him some trouble to convince these simple-minded Highlanders that it was his serious intention to go to gaol. And thither, by dint of considerable persuasion, he induced his unwilling captors to conduct him. From Tain he anticipated being forwarded to Edinburgh, where Gerald and Skirving were, by this time, arrested and confined. But whatever may have been the reason (and it never clearly appeared), he was simply bound over by the sheriff of the county to keep the peace, and discharged from custody. It is stated that the Lord Advocate considered it inexpedient to proceed farther against hint. Calder had been somewhat implicated in an occurrence arising out of a “clearing” of the inhabitants, effected some time previously, on certain farms in Ross-shire, for the purpose of converting them into sheep-walks. This “clearing” had led to riots on the part of the persons ejected from their homes and hearths. At all events they had risen up and driven away the sheep by whom they had been inhumanely supplanted. Several of the ringleaders were consequently lodged in gaol: but by the aid of a “bora natural”—one of those hapless creatures afflicted with idiocy, of whom specimens are sometimes to be seen about our country villages—they had succeeded in effecting their escape. Their poor witless friend contrived to abstract the keys from the custody of a slumbering turnkey, to whom he faithfully restored them while still in the arms of Morpheus; but not before he had, in the meanwhile, set the prisoners free! The sheriff and other officials, inexpressibly annoyed at the circumstance, promulgated the offer of a large reward for having them retaken, branding them as “ sheep-stealers” in tho placards issued for the purpose. Young Calder’s indignation was aroused at the application of such a term, under the circumstances, to persons, many of whom, to his own personal knowledge, were otherwise worthy and religious people; and the part taken by him in the affair consisted in having counter-placards privately posted, exhorting the inhabitants not to betray their countrymen. His appeals were effectual; none of the individuals concerned were retakes; they voe even suffered eventually to return to their homes, without farther notiee being taken of their conduct by the authorities. Amongst their somber, was a noted Celt, named Hugh Brack Mao—something; who, having vowed summary vengeance against a neighbour concerned in Ids original apprehension, might have been regarded as in rather an unfavourable position for keeping his resolution. But no sooner had the pursuit after the fugitives from gaol slackened, than Hugh Brack returned all the way from Perth on foot, for the express purpose of pouncing upon his foe; and having one night found a fitting opportunity of indulging his revenge without the usual fetal consequences, retreated onoe more to his hiding-place in Perth, without having visited any one m the district with the exception of Mr. Gaidar. The individual subjected to Hugh Brack’s disciplinary vengeance applied, early on the succeeding morning, to his Lordship, the Sheriff, for a warrant against his assailant. “A warrant,” exclaimed the Sheriff “against Hugh Breck! Why man, I have offered a hundred pounds already to cateh him, and where do you expect to do so?”

Calder was not restrained by the proceedings which had been directed against him in the north from forthwith repairing to Edinburgh, the scene of the political prosecutions against his friends. He arrived in time to rescue several of them from eminent peril, by collecting letters and papers emanating from different societies, which he took the precaution of destroying at his own lodgings. The greater part of a night was spent in the work of destruction; and when the domiciliary visits were paid, as paid they were, the proofs of connexion with Associations obnoxious to the Government had ceased to exist!

At the memorable trials which ensued, Calder rendered active assistance in the preparations for the defence. He sat at the bar with Joseph Gerald throughout the entire inquiry, arranging his papers, and privately administering to him, from time to time, small doses of spirit of lavendar combined with laudanum, upon pieces of sugar, for the purpose of stimulating and sustaining him in the delivery of his speech, which occupied four hours. Mr. Calder always mentioned this noble-minded man in terms expressive of the fondest admiration; and often would recite portions of his address on this occasion, particularly its solemn peroration, the effect of which was so overpowering that even the Judges on the Bench suffered some minutes to elapse ere' they regained their composure. Calder passed with Gerald the night previous to the latter being sent away; and even within the precincts of the prison, the song

“Come, Sons of Freedom! no more let us monm!"

was raised on the occasion. Calder was likewise one of the exculpatory witnesses on the trial of Marguerot.

The consequences of these unhappy prosecutions, as respected the victims of the law, are well and widely known; but less has been heard of the minor sufferings indirectly endured by others who were not arraigned. Of these Mr. Calder had his Bhare. His prospects of admission to the Scottish Bar were blighted solely in consequence of his persevering fidelity to the cause of reform. In the previous year, the name of Thomas Muir, of Huntershill, had been struck off the roll of the Faculty of Advocates; and it was now distinctly enough announced that there was no admission to be expected for the name of the friend of Muir and of Muir’s associates.

All hopes of an opening at the Bar being thus blighted and crushed, Calder foresaw no means of earning an independent livelihood without quitting his native country. He repaired, therefore, to London, era he had yet attained his twenty-first year. On occasion of his departure, a large party of gentlemen embraced the opportunity of testifying their regard by escorting him to Leith. He was not long in London until he was engaged upon a newspaper called “The Oracle,” at that time a well-known journal. But, in the course of a few months, he yielded to inducements offered him for undertaking a voyage to the Coast of Guinea; and it is singular enough, that he sailed in the capacity of Surgeon. He hrfd, in point of fact, studied Medicine as ardently as law, or even politics, while sojourning in Edinburgh. The Sugar Cane, the vessel in which he went, was captured, whilst homeward-bound, by a French frigate, after an engagement of several hours’ duration ; in the course of which, Calder beheld a negro girl lulled at his side by a cannon ball. He was carried, along with the ship’s crew, to Guadaloupe; and there became accidentally serviceable in an affair of some importance to the liberties of the Islanders. It was at the time when that sanguinary Frenchman, Victor Hngues, was Governor of the Island; and while the tyranny of this man’s role instigated the secret indignation of the residents, the fear of his vengeance checked all their efforts for redress. Scarcely had Calder been a fortnight in confinement, when, won by his pleasing manners and conversation, the French Inspecting Surgeon directed his removal to the Hospital, from the dnngeon in which he lay immured. The handsome conduct of the medical officer was dictated, as he himself expressed it, by the desire to see Calder “treated as a gentleman.” And the change formed no trivial boon ; for such was the construction of the cells in which the prisoners were confined, as to allow the inmates to lie on one side only. Calder gained even the good opinion of his gaolers, although it must be allowed that he accomplished this in rather a whimsical manner. He was in the habit of remonstrating with his fellow-prisoners respecting the anathemas they were daily accustomed to visit upon the French, and to instruct them to transfer their maledictions to William Pitt, who would not let the French alone. William Pitt accordingly became, to the infinite delight of their Frenoh custodiers, the subject of the sailors’ imprecations, before the period that Calder left them, duly as the day came round. Shortly after his transference to the Hospital, Calder was still farther enlarged, having received permission to go abroad upon parole. He was frequently invited to visit the leading people of the Island, and thus became acquainted with the smouldering animosity occasioned by the severe conduct of the Governor. The result was the production in English, from the pen of Mr. Calder, of a document which obtained some celebrity in its day; and which, translated into French by an officer serving on the Island, formed the memorable remonstrance from the merchants and other inhabitants of Guadaloupe to the Directory of France. The effect of this representation, on its reaching Paris, is matter of history. The Directory were obliged to recal their petty tyrant. But the risk thus encountered by a prisoner of war, in attempting to vanquish local oppression, must be too obvious to require animadversion. Mr. Calder was released by cartel, after three months’ detention in Guadaloupe, and proceeded to Antigua, where he met with a warm reception. Amongst his friends in the island of Antigua were two brothers, extensive planters, who generously offered to guarantee him an income of ,600 a-year, provided he would remain there as a teacher and lecturer. But finding him bent on departing, they delicately availed themselves of an opportunity to send privately on board of the vessel by which he was to sail a complete stock of clothes and linen for his use. The fate which awaited these warm-hearted brothers was tragical and distressing. They were British; but so devotedly attached to each other, that they became mutu-ally plighted never to marry—never to separate —never to survive one another. One of them died a few years afterwards ; the other immediately shot himself through the head : thus fearfully keeping his rash and romantic compact!

From Antigua, Calder returned to England, and again entered into connexion with the Press. His first engagement was on the London Telegraph; but, in the course of a short time, he entered the Gallery as a Parliamentary reporter on the Times. The “leading journal" was at that period held by the father of the present' Mr. Walter. Mr. Calder’s position on the staff of reporters endured for something less than a session. His extensive knowledge—more especially his acquaintance with the Continental languages—marked him out for a superior sphere of usefulness within the office. He was now confidentially employed by “The Whig Club,” for some purpose which never transpired, for he never revealed it even to his nearest connexions. All that he ever seems to have felt himself at liberty to mention was the fact of his having spent a fortnight at Footscray, whither he had been invited by Sir Francis Burdett, who was then but a young man. The party to whom he was introduced by Sir Francis consisted of Arthur O’Connor, Horne Tooke, Dr. Parr, and other noted reformers. This meeting took place previous to the outbreaks in Ireland. It is probable, that O’Connor, though he did not avow it, was already aware of the movements in contemplation. In the course of conversation, tho state of Ireland happened to be adverted to. O’Connor undertook to show by what means an insurrection might prove successful. He concluded the development of his plan, by observing triumphantly, “Thus, I have made provision for everything.” “Not so, Mr. O’Connor,” remarked Home Tooke, “there is one thing for which you have made no provision.” “What is that?” inquired O’Connor, surprised. “Why,” replied the Author of the “Diversions of Purley,” with a characteristic play upon language, “you have made no provision for provisions, the most difficult provision of ail!” The declaration of the “Whig Club” was submitted to the consideration of Mr. Calder, at the meeting we have just described.

On the failure of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, although he entirely disapproved of the proceedings of its promoters, Mr. Calder did not refuse them in their adversity his sympathy and his aid. Amongst those whom he rescued from the pursuit of Government was M'Cabe, the disciplinarian of the Irish army. When M'Cabe’s capture seemed imminent in London, he concealed him for a fortnight in his own lodgings. The Minister of the day, the celebrated Spencer Percival, appears to have made overtures to Mr. Calder, through a renegade rebel, whereby a bribe of a thousand pounds was offered for the information requisite to trace M'Cabe. The offer was indignantly spurned; and M'Cabe succeeded in reaching France in safety.

The career of Mr. Calder as an Editor of the London Press during this period was that of an active and consistent Reformer. Several of his early friends he saw rising superior to him in rank and in riches; but the stern independence of his principles precluded his taking the slightest step to follow them, which would have involved a deviation from the straightforward course which he uniformly pursued.

The Englishman was the principal Sunday paper towards the close of the war. Mr. Calder, by whom it was conducted, was joint proprietor of it along with Mr. Walter—and, while still conducting it in 1821, an eminent statesman, now deceased, intimated Mr. Caiming’s desire to have an interview with him. It was tolerably well understood that an official appointment, in which Mr. Calder’s accurate knowledge of foreign parties and politics would become available, was likely to follow the interview thus requested. But the meeting was unhesitatingly declined.

After editing, for a short period, the -British Traveller, Mr. Calder finally retired from active life, in 1824, a martyr to hereditary gout, and to a liver complaint contracted in Africa. He survived until December last; and at the time of his death had nearly completed his seventy-third year.

Such were the excessive kindness and benevolence of Mr. C aider’s disposition, that they even advantaged his enemies. A slight instance of this we may venture to record. For years, he had been the frequent subject of espionage, and particularly of that of a person in the pay of the ministry connected with the public press. This man is character Mr. Calder knew. He, therefore, distrusted him. But when this person was seized with an illness, which proved to bo a fatal one, ho promptly responded to liis application for assistance. The dying wretch sent from his death-bed for his benefactor, and abjectly implored his forgiveness for having acted for years as a government spy upon his actions.

We could name more than one person now figuring in public life, by whom the advantages of Mr. Calder’s encouragement and support were early experienced.

His talents and acquirements were extraordinary and extensive. In almost every branch of the arts and sciences he was a proficient. He was a universalist as respected languages; and such were the retentive powers of his memory, that nothing once heard or read ever afterwards escaped his recollection. He hence possessed an exhaustless fund of original anecdote. With these singular advantages, supqr-added to a perfect knowledge of all the remarkable characters and notable transactions of his times, his Autobiography would have added illustrations of value to the history of the age ; but a considerate regard for the feelings of others, and a dread of inadvertently committing to paper circumstances shielded from publicity by the obligations of honour, caused him invariably to decline many liberal offers which were made him on this account. It is only five years ago, since 500 in cash, and half the profits of the work, were unavailingly offered him for a history of his life.

Though unknown as an author, Mr. 0alder’s literary labours were extensive. Grammars of the Portuguese, the Spanish, the French, and the German languages, now in constant use, came under his revision, as well as works on mathematics, on the construction of bridges, and in other departments of science. But the only person who ever publicly acknowledged his obligations of this kind to Mr. Calder, was the late Mr. Grant, with whom he was associated at Aberdeen, and who was the author of both Latin and English Grammars.


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