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Significant Scots
William Craig


CRAIG, WILLIAM, a distinguished senator of the college of Justice, and a large contributor to the literary paper styled "the Mirror," was the son of Dr William Craig, one of the ministers of Glasgow; a man of so much eminence, that the editors of the Biographia Britannica thought proper to admit an account of him, drawn up by professor Richardson, into their very select collection. The subject of the present memoir was born in 1745, and received his education at Glasgow college, where he attended the classes of Smith in moral philosophy and political economy, and those of Millar in jurisprudence and civil law. His acquirements were at an early period very great, especially in the belles lettres, and to a less degree in history and metaphysics. He entered at the bar in 1768, and was the contemporary and intimate friend of some of the most distinguished men of the last age. Robert Blair, afterwards lord president, Alexander Abercromby, afterwards lord Abercromby, along with Craig and some others, held for some years a private meeting once every week, for mutual improvement in their legal studies. It is remarkable that, at the commencement of Mr Pitt’s administration in 1784, Blair, Abercromby, and Craig were appointed together to be depute advocates under Sir Hay Campbell, who was at the same time nominated lord advocate. Mr Craig held this office till 1787, when he was nominated sheriff of Ayrshire. On the death of lord Hailes in 1792, Mr Craig was appointed to succeed him on the bench, on which occasion he assumed the designation of lord Craig. In 1795, he succeeded lord Henderland as a judge of the court of justiciary.

In the concluding number of "the Mirror," which appeared on the 17th of May 1780, it is mentioned that "the idea of publishing a periodical paper in Edinburgh took its rise in a company of gentlemen, whom particular circumstances of connection brought frequently together. Their discourse often turned upon subjects of manners, of taste, and of literature. By one of those accidental resolutions of which the origin cannot easily be traced, it was determined to put their thoughts in writing, and to read them for the entertainment of each other. Their essays assumed the form, and, soon after, some one gave them the name of a periodical publication. The writers of it were naturally associated; and their meetings increased the importance, as well as the number of their productions. Cultivating letters in the midst of business, composition was to them an amusement only; that amusement was heightened by the audience which this society afforded; the idea of publication suggested itself as productive of still higher entertainment. It was not, however, without diffidence that such a resolution was taken. From that and several circumstances, it was thought proper to observe the strictest secrecy with regard to the authors; a purpose in which they have been so successful, that at this moment, the very publisher of the work knows only one of their number, to whom the conduct of it was intrusted."

It is now to be mentioned, upon the credit of the sole survivor of the association above alluded to, that the first idea of starting this periodical work occurred to Mr Craig, who, next to Mr Mackenzie, was the most zealous of them all in the cultivation of the belles lettres. The remaining persons concerned were Mr. Alexander Abercromby, of whom a memoir has been given in the present dictionary, Mr. Robert Cullen, afterwards lord Cullen, Mr. Macleod Bannatyne, afterwards lord Bannatyne, Mr. George Rome, afterwards lord Wedderburn, and one of the principal clerks of session, Mr. William Gordon of Newhall, and Mr. George Ogilvy, both also advocates, but of whom the first died, and the latter fell into bad health, before having made any contribution to the Mirror. Mr. Mackenzie was the only individual unconnected with the bar The association was at first termed the Tabernacle; but when the resolution of publishing was adopted, it assumed the name of the Mirror Club, from the title of the projected paper. It was resolved to commit the business of publishing to Mr. Creech, the well-known bookseller, and the duty of communicating with him, and of the general superintendence of the work, was devolved on Mr. Mackenzie. The club used to meet once a-week, sometimes in one tavern, sometimes in another, in order that their proceedings might be less liable to the observation of their acquaintance. A list of their haunts will tell strangely in the ears of those who, thinking of the Mirror as the pink of elegance in literature, might find that every circumstance connected with its composition was alike elegant. The club met, for instance, sometimes in Clerihugh’s, in Writer’s court, sometimes in Somers’s, opposite the Guardhouse in the High street, sometimes in Stewart’s oyster-house in the Old Fish-market close, and fully as often, perhaps, in Lucky Dunbar’s, a moderate and obscure house, situated in an alley leading betwixt Forrester’s and Libberton’s Wynd. On these occasions, any member who had written a paper since the last meeting, produced it to be read and considered. But, as a general invitation had been held out for contributions from persons not members of the club, and a box placed at Mr Creech’s shop for receiving them, the papers so contributed, as well as those produced by the members, were read over and considered, and a selection made of those proposed to be adopted. Among these occasional contributors were several individuals of great respectability, of whom we may mention lord Hailes, professor Richardson of Glasgow, Dr Henry, author of the History of Great Britain, and Mr David Hume, now one of the barons of exchequer. Some other papers of no inconsiderable merit were supposed to be from ladies. The Mirror was commenced on the 23d of January, 1779, and finished with the 110th number on the 27th of May, 1780. It appeared in one small folio sheet, which was sold at three half pence, and though not above four hundred were ever sold of any particular number, the public approbation was so high as to demand the immediate republication of the whole in three volumes duodecimo.

Mr Craig’s contributions to the Mirror, which were the most numerous, next to those of Mr Mackenzie, are indicated in a later edition of the work: -

To the Lounger, which was started some years after by the same club, he also contributed many excellent papers.

Lord Craig, who possessed originally a very weak constitution, enjoyed so poor a state of health in his latter years as to be obliged to resign his places on the justiciary bench. He died on the 8th of July, 1813. The mental qualifications of this eminent person were of a very high order. Although his practice at the bar had never been very extensive, he was much esteemed in his character as a judge, his decisions being remarkable for their clearness and precision, while his habits were of a singularly industrious order, considering the state of his health. In private life he was beloved on account of his gentle, unassuming manners, and his eminently benevolent and sociable disposition.


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