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Significant Scots
Sir David Dalrymple


DALRYMPLE, SIR DAVID, a celebrated Scottish judge and antiquary, was born at Edinburgh, on the 28th of October, 1726. His father was Sir James Dalrymple, of Hailes, bart., and his mother lady Christian Hamilton, a daughter of the earl of Haddington. His grandfather, who was lord advocate for Scotland during the reign of George I., was the youngest son of the first lord Stair, and distinguished for ability even among the members of his own able family; and his father, Sir James, had the auditorship of the exchequer bestowed upon him for life. Sir David Dalrymple was sent to be educated at Eton, where he was eminently distinguished for ability and general good conduct. At this seminary he acquired, with a competent share of classical learning, a find classical taste and a partiality for English manners and customs, which marked through life both his public and private conduct. From Eton he returned to Edinburgh, where he went through the usual course at the university; and afterwards went to Utrecht, where he prosecuted the study of the civil law, till the suppression of the rebellion in the year 1746, when he returned to his native country. From the sobriety of his character, with his ardour and diligence in prosecuting whatever subject arrested his attention, the highest hopes of his future eminence were now entertained by his friends. Nor were these hopes disappointed; although circumstances led him into studies not altogether such as he would have pursued, had he been left to the bent of his own genius. The study of antiquities and the belles lettres was the most congenial to his own mind, and in both he was eminently fitted to excel; but from the state of his affairs on the death of his father, who left a large family and an estate deeply encumbered, he found it necessary to adopt the law as a profession, that he might be able to meet the demands which lay against the family inheritance, and make suitable provision for those dependent on him. He accordingly made his appearance as an advocate, or, as it is technically expressed, was called to the Scottish bar, in the year 1748. Here, however, though he had considerable practice, his success was not equal to the sanguine expectations of his friends. In the science of law few men were more expert than Sir David Dalrymple, and in point of industry, he was surpassed by no one of his contemporaries; but he had certain peculiarities, probably inherent in his nature, strengthened by study, and confirmed by habit, that impeded his progress, and rendered his efforts less effective than those of men who were far his inferiors in natural and acquired abilities. From natural modesty and good taste, he had a sovereign contempt for verbal antitheses, rounded periods, and every thing that had the semblance of declamation, for excelling in which he was totally unqualified—his voice being ill-toned, and his manner ungraceful. In consequence of these defects, his pleadings, which were always addressed to the judgment, never to the passions, often fell short of those of his opponents, who, possessing less enlarged views of their subject, but having higher rhetorical powers, and being less fastidious in the choice of words, captivated their auditors by the breadth of their irony and the sweeping rotundity of their periods. Nor did his memorials, though classically written, and replete with valuable matter, at all times meet with the approbation of the court, which was disposed at times to find fault with their brevity and sometimes with the extreme attention they manifested to the minutiae of forms, in which it was alleged he concealed the merits of the case. On points, however, which interested his feelings, or which involved the interests of truth and virtue, he lost sight of the intricacies of form; his language became glowing, and his arguments unanswerable. No advocate of his own standing was at the time more truly respectable; and he was often employed as advocate-depute, which gave him frequent opportunities of manifesting that candour of heart and tenderness of disposition, which were at all times striking features of his character, and which so well become the prosecutor in a criminal court. Going the western circuit on one occasion, in this capacity, he came to the town of Stirling, where, the first day of the court, he was in no haste to bring on the business; and being met by a brother of the bar, was accosted with the question, Why there was no trial this forenoon. "There are," said Sir David, "some unhappy culprits to be tried for their lives, and therefore it is proper they have time to confer for a little with their men of law." "That is of very little consequence," said the other. "Last year I came to visit lord Kaimes, when he was here on the circuit, and he appointed me counsel for a man accused of a rape. Though I had very little time to prepare, yet I made a decent speech." "Pray, Sir," said Sir David, " was your client acquitted or condemned?" "0," replied the other, "most unjustly condemned." "That, Sir," said the depute-advocate, "is no good argument for hurrying on trials."

Having practised at the bar with increasing reputation for eighteen years, Sir David Dalrymple was, with the warmest approbation of the public, appointed one of the judges of the court of session, in the year 1766. He took his seat on the bench with the usual formalities, by the title of lord Hailes, the designation by which he is generally known among the learned throughout Europe. This was a situation, which it was admitted on all hands, that Sir David Dalrymple was admirably calculated to fill. His unwearied assiduity in sifting dark and intricate matters to the bottom was well known, and his manner of expression, elegant and concise, was admirably suited to the chair of authority. That his legal opinions had always been found to be sound, was also generally believed; yet it has been candidly admitted, that he was, as a judge, neither so useful nor so highly venerated as the extent of his knowledge and his unquestioned integrity led his friends to expect. The same minute attention to forms, which had in some degree impeded his progress at the bar, accompanied him to the bench, and excited sometimes the merriment of lighter minds. It is to be noticed, however, that too little regard has been, on some occasions, in the very venerable court of session, paid to forms; and that forms, apparently trifling, have seldom, in legal proceedings, been disregarded, without in some degree affecting the interests of truth and justice. It has also been remarked, that such was the opinion which the other judges entertained of the accuracy, diligence, and dignified character of lord Hailes, that, in the absence of the lord president, he was almost always placed in the chair. After having acted as a lord of session for ten years, lord Hailes was, in the year 1776, nominated one of the lords of justiciary, in which capacity he commanded the respect of all men. Fully impressed with a sense of the importance of his office in the criminal court, all his singularities seemed to forsake him. Before the time of Hailes, it had been too much the case in the Scottish criminal courts, for the judge to throw all the weight of his influence into the scale of the crown. Lord Hailes, imitating the judges of England, threw his into the scale of the prisoner, especially when the king’s counsel seemed to be overpowering, or when there was any particular intricacy in the case. It is to be regretted, that, in almost all of our courts of justice, oaths are administered in a manner highly indecorous, tending rather to derogate from the importance of that most solemn act. In this respect, lord Hailes was the very model of perfection. Rising slowly from his seat, with a gravity peculiarly his own, he pronounced the words in a manner so serious as to impress the most profligate mind with the conviction that he was himself awed with the immediate presence of that awful Majesty, to whom the appeal was made. When the witness was young, or appeared to be ignorant, his lordship was careful, before putting the oath, to point out its nature and obligations in a manner the most perspicuous and affecting. It is perhaps impossible for human vigilance or sagacity, altogether to prevent perjury in courts of justice; but he was a villain of no common order, that could perjure himself in the presence of lord Hailes. In all doubtful cases it was his lordship’s invariable practice to lean to the side of mercy; and when it became his painful duty to pass sentence of death upon convicted criminals, he did so in a strain so pious and so pathetic, as often to overwhelm in a flood of tears the promiscuous multitudes that are wont to be assembled on such occasions. In the discharge of this painful part of his duty, lord Hailes may have been equalled, but he was certainly, in this country at least, never surpassed.

While lord Hailes was thus diligent in the discharge of the public duties of his high place, he was, in those hours which most men find it necessary to devote to rest and recreation, producing works upon all manner of subjects, exceeding in number, and surpassing in value, those of many men whose lives have been wholly devoted toliterature. Of these, as they are in few hands, though some of them at least are exceedingly curious and highly interesting, we shall presents the reader with such notices as our limits will permit, in the order in which they were published. His first work seems to have been Sacred Poems, a Collection of Translations and Paraphrases from the Holy Scriptures, by various authors Edinburgh, 1751, 12mo, dedicated to Charles, lord Hope, with a preface of ten pages. The next was, The Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom of Jesus, the son of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, from the Apocrypha, l2mo, Edinburgh, 1755, without preface or commentary. In the years following, 1756, he published, in 12mo, Select Discourses, by John Smith, late fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, with a preface, many quotations from the learned languages translated, and notes added, containing allusions to ancient mythology, and to the erroneous philosophy which prevailed in the days of the author, &c &c. Next year, 1757, he republished, with notes, A Discourse of the unnatural and vile conspiracy attempted by John, earl of Gowrie, and his brother, against his majesty’s sacred person at St Johnstoun, 5th of August, 1600, 12mo. Two vessels, the Betsey Cunningham, and the Leith packet, Pitcairn, from London to Leith, being wrecked on the shore between Dunbar and North Berwick, in the month of October, 1761, and pillaged by the country people, as was too often done on all the coasts of Britain, and is sometimes done to this day, Sir David published A Sermon, which might have been preached in East Lothian, on the 25th day of October, 1761; Acts xxvii, 1, 2, "The barbarous people showed us no little kindness." This is an admirable discourse, deeply affecting, and calculated in a particular manner to carry conviction to the offenders. In 1762, he published from the press of the Foulises, Glasgow, Memorials and Letters relating to the History of Britain in the reign of James I. of England, from a collection in the Advocates’ Library, by Balfour of Denmyln, with a preface and a few notes. This is an exceedingly curious little volume, throwing much light on the character of the British Solomon and his sapient courtiers. In 1765 he published, from the same press, the works of the ever memorable Mr John Hailes of Eaton, now first collected together, in three volumes, with a short preface, and a dedication to bishop Warburton, the edition said to be undertaken with his approbation. The same year, he published a specimen of a book, entitled, Ane compendious Booke of Godly and Spiritual Sangs, collectit out of sundrie parts of Scripture, with sundrie of other ballotis changed out of prophane sangs for avoyding of sin and harlotrie, &c. This was printed at Edinburgh, in 12mo, and was the first introduction of that singular performance to the notice of modern readers. In 1766, he published at Glasgow, Memorials and Letters relating to the history of Britain, in the reign of Charles I., published from the originals, collected by Mr Robert Wodrow, the historian of the sufferings of the church of Scotland. This is a very curious performance; and it was followed, the same year, by one, perhaps, still more so, an account of the preservation of king Charles II. after the battle of Worcester, drawn up by himself; to which are added, his letters to several persons. The same year, he published the secret correspondence between Sir Robert Cecil and James VI.; and the year following, A Catalogue of the Lords of Session, from the institution of the college of justice, in the year 1532, with historical notes. The private correspondence of Dr Francis Atterbury, bishop of Rochester, and his friends, in 1725, was published by lord Hailes, in 1768-69. An examination of some of the arguments for the high antiquity of Regiam Majestatem, and an inquiry into the authenticity of the Leges Malcolmi.—Also, Historical Memoirs, concerning the provincial councils of the Scottish clergy, from the earliest accounts to the era of the Reformation. At the same time he published, Canons of the Church of Scotland, drawn up in the provincial councils, held at Perth, A. D. 1242 and l269. In 1770, he published, Ancient Scottish Poems, published from MS. of George Bannatyne, 1568, with a number of curious notes, and a glossary. His lordship’s next performance was, The Additional case of Elizabeth, claiming the title and dignity of countess of Sutherland by her guardian wherein the facts and arguments in support of her claim are more fully stated, and the errors in the additional cases for the other claimants are detected. This most singularly learned and able case was subscribed by Alexander Wedderburn, afterwards lord chancellor of England, and Sir Adam Ferguson, but is the well-known work of lord Hailes. This performance is not to be regarded merely as a law paper of great ability, but as a treatise of profound research into the history and antiquity of many important and general points of succession and family history. In 1773, he published, Remarks on the History of Scotland, inscribed to George, lord Lyttleton. In 1776, he published, Huberti Langueti Epistolae ad Philippum Sydneium, Equitem Anglum, &c,. inscribed to lord chief baron Smythe. The same year were published, his Annals of Scotland, from the accession of Malcolm III., surnamed Canmore, to the accession of Robert I. This was followed, three years after, by Annals of Scotland from the accession of Robert I., surnamed the Bruce, to the accession of the house of Stuart. This is a most admirable work, but as it enjoys universal celebrity, and is in the hands of every one who is studious of Scottish history, we do not think it necessary to give any particular remarks upon it. In 1776, he published the first volume of the Remains of Christian Antiquity, a work of great erudition, containing accounts of the martyrs of Smyrna and Lyons in the second century, with explanatory notes; dedicated to bishop Hurd. This is a new and correct version of two most ancient epistles, the one from the church at Smyrna to the church at Philadelphia; the other from the Christians at Vienne and Lyons, to those in Asia and Phrygia; their antiquity and authenticity are undoubted. Great part of both is extracted from Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. The former was first completely edited by archbishop Usher. Lord Hailes with that singular modesty which characterized him, says of his notes to this work, that they will afford little new or interesting to men of erudition, though they may prove of some benefit to the unlearned reader. The erudition lord Hailes possessed on these subjects was of a kind so singular, and is so little studied, that he might have spared any apology on the subject, the learned being, in fact, for the most part, on these subjects more ignorant than the unlearned. With much useful learning, however, these notes display what is still better, true piety and ardent zeal connected with an exemplary knowledge of Christianity. In 1778, his lordship published the second volume of this work dedicated to Dr Newton, bishop of Bristol. This volume contains the trial of Justin Martyr and his companions; the epistle of Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria to Fabius, bishop of Antioch; the trial and execution of Fructuosus, bishop of Torrocena in Spain, and of his two demons Augurius and Eulogius; the maiden of Antioch, &c. These are all newly translated by lord Hailes from Ruinart, Eusebius, Ambrose, &c. The notes of this volume display a most intimate acquaintance with antiquity, great critical acumen, both in elucidating the sense and detecting interpolations, and, above all, a fervent and enlightened zeal invindicating such sentiments and conduct as are conformable to the word of God against the malicious sarcasms of Mr Gibbon. The third volume appeared in 1780 dedicated to Thomas Balgray, D.D. It contains the history of the martyrs of Palestine in the third century, translated from Eusebius. In the notes and illustrations to this volume, Gibbon comes again under review, and his partiality and misrepresentations are most satisfactorily exposed. In 1781, he published Octavius, a dialogue by Marcus Minucius Felix, with notes and illustrations. The speakers are Coecilius a heathen, and Octavius a Christian, whose arguments prevail with his friend to become a Christian proselyte. In 1782, he published a Treatise, by L. C. F. Lactantius, of the manner in which the persecutors died. This was dedicated to Dr Porteous, bishop of Chester, afterwards bishop of London, and largely illustrated by critical notes. In 1783, he published, Disquisitions concerning the Antiquity of the Christian church, inscribed to Dr Halifax, bishop of Gloucester. This small, but highly original work, consists of six chapters; 1st, of the conduct and character of Gallio; 2d, of the time at which the Christian religion became known at Rome; 3d, of the cause of the persecution of the Christians under Nero, in which the hypothesis of Gibbon is examined; 4th, of the eminent heathens who are said, by Gibbon, to have contemned Christianity, viz. Seneca, the Plinys, elder and younger, Tacitus, Galen, Epictetus, Plutarch, and Marcus Antoninus. This chapter is particularly interesting to the admirer of heathen philosophers and heathen philosophy; 5th, is an illustration of a conjecture of Gibbon respecting the silence of Dion Cassius concerning the Christians; and the 6th, treats of the circumstances respecting Christianity, that are to be found in the Augustan history. There can scarcely be a doubt, that all these works treating of the early ages of Christianity, were suggested by the misrepresentations of Gibbon, and were they circulated as widely as Gibbon’s work, would be found a complete antidote. His lordship, however, was not satisfied with this indirect mode of defence, and, in 1786, published An Inquiry into the Secondary Causes which Mr Gibbon has assigned for the rapid growth of Christianity; in which he has most triumphantly set aside his conclusions. This performance he gratefully and affectionately inscribed to Richard Hurd, bishop of Worcester. The same year, his lordship published sketches of the lives of John Barclay; of John Hamilton, a secular priest; of Sir James Ramsay, a general officer in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden; of George Leslie, a capuchin friar; and of Mark Alexander Boyd. These lives were written and published as a specimen of the manner in which a biographica Scotica might be executed, and we do not know that he proceeded any further with the design. 1n 1788, he published, from her original MSS. the opinions of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough; with notes, corrective of her ladyship’s splenetic humour; and, in 1790, he translated and published, with notes and illustrations, The Address of Q. Sept. Tertullian to Scapula Tertullus, proconsul of Africa. This address contains many particulars relating to the church after the third century, and in the notes some strange inaccuracies of Mr Gibbon are detected.

This was the last work which lord Hailes lived to publish. His constitution had been long in an enfeebled state, which so much diligence in study must have tended to increase. He continued, however, to prosecute his studies and to attend his duty on the bench, till within three days of his death, which happened on the 29th of November, 1792, in the 66th year of his age. His lordship was twice married. By his first wife, Anne Brown, only daughter of lord Coalston, one of the judges of the court of session, he left issue one daughter, who inherited his estate. By his second wife, Helen Ferguson, youngest daughter of lord Kilkerran, he left also issue, one daughter. Having no male issue, his baronetcy descended to his nephew. Of the character of lord Hailes, there can be but one opinion. As an able lawyer and an upright judge, he stands eminently conspicuous in an age and a country where such characters were not rare, and when the exercise of such qualities, from their superabundance, scarcely could merit praise. As a man of general erudition, he stands, if we except Warburton, almost without a rival in the age he lived in. His skill in classical learning, the belles lettres, and historical antiquities, especially those of his own country, have been universally admitted, and had popularity been his intention, as it was of too many of his contemporaries, there cannot be a doubt but that he could have made himself the most shining meteor among them. Instead, however, of fixing upon subjects that might interest the frivolous, or draw upon him the smiles of the fashionable and the gay, he sedulously devoted his studies to such subjects as he thought particularly called for by the circumstances of the times, and with which all would be benefited by becoming acquainted. A shallow spirit of scepticism was abroad, which, aided by ignorance and misrepresentation, was threatening to become universal, and to change the sober and meditative character of Britons, into frothy petulance and flippant vanity. This he attempted to meet by sober investigations into the truth of the facts that had been so confidently assumed respecting the early history of Christianity, by which he certainly left his opponents without the shadow of an excuse for persisting in their conclusions, having proved to a demonstration that their premises were false. Whether he might not have done this in a more popular form, we cannot now stay to inquire into. We certainly think the mode he adopted that which was best calculated to cut off the cavilling of adversaries, and to carry conviction to the mind of the reader; and to those who wish to treat the subject in a more popular form, his lordship has furnished abundant materials. His various republications of the ancient poetry of Scotland, and the publication of original letters regarding her history and manners, while they throw much light upon the history of the country and the domestic economy of the times to which they relate, present his lordship in a most amiable point of view; and, while we admire the scholar and the philosopher, we cannot cease to venerate and to love the man. Of his Annals we have already spoken. Though necessarily written in a close and severe style, they have long ago risen to a pitch of popularity far beyond many works that took a more immediate hold of the public mind; and we have no doubt that ages will only add to their value. Indeed, he has left nothing to be done for the periods that came under his review. His inquiry into the secondary causes which Gibbon has assigned for the rapid progress of Christianity, is also a masterpiece of its kind, displaying great critical acumen, close reasoning, and great zeal for truth, without the smallest particle of that rancour which too often runs through the theological controversy. With all his virtues and all his acquirements, joined to the finest natural abilities, lord Hailes was not one of those who could boast of the immense sums he received for the copyright of his works. He was most commonly his own publisher; and, as is generally the case in such circumstances, the circulation of his writings was, with a few exceptions, confined to the particular friends and acquaintances whom he had drawn around him. The consequence is, that there are many of them no longer to be met with, being wholly confined to the cabinets of the curious. It would be meritorious work, in these days of literary enterprise, and we cannot doubt that an intelligent and spirited publisher might find it a profitable speculation, to publish a neat, cheap, and uniform edition of his multifarious publications. Lord Hailes possessed a natural taste for retirement. The state of his affairs, at a most important period of his life, rendered it necessary for him, and the habit grew upon him as he advanced in years. His constitution, of which he was careful, as well as his principles and habits, rendered him averse to every kind of dissipation. After he was constituted a judge, he considered it unbecoming his character to mingle much with the fashionable and the gay world. When he chose to unbend his mind, therefore, it was in the society of a few easy friends whom he had selected, as much on account of their moral and religious worth, as for their genius or learning. With that constellation of men of genius and science which illuminated Edinburgh at that period, lord Hailes had much agreeable and profitable conversation, but it was impossible for friendship or close intimacy to subsist between men who thought so differently, as he and the most of them did, upon the most important of all subjects. Though a whig, and strongly attached to the best principles of the revolution, he took no part in the broils, civil or ecclesiastical, which agitated the country in the first period of the reign of George III. Some of these he regarded as frivolous, and others as mischievous and, from conscience, could not allow himself to take any part in them. Conscious at all times of the dignity and importance of the high office which he held, he never departed from the decorum becoming that reverend character. This decorum it cost him no effort to support, because he acted from principle improved into a daily sentiment of the heart. Affectionate to his family and relations, simple and mild in his manners, pure in his morals, enlightened and entertaining in his conversation, he left society only to regret that devoted as he was to more important employments, he had so little time to spare for intercourse with them.


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