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Significant Scots
James Grainger


GRAINGER, JAMES, a physician and poet of some eminence, was born in Dunse, about the year 1723. After receiving such education as his native town afforded, he came to Edinburgh, and was bound apprentice to a Mr Lander, a surgeon. While in the employment of this gentleman, he studied the various branches of medicine; and having qualified himself for practice, joined the army, and served as surgeon to lieutenant Pulteney’s regiment of foot, during the rebellion in Scotland of 1745. On the conclusion of the war, Grainger went in the same capacity to Germany, but again returned to England at the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. He now sold his commission, and entered upon practice in London, but without much success. In 1753 he published a treatise in Latin on some diseases peculiar to the army, entitled "Historia Febris Intermittentis Armatorum, 1746, 1747, 1748." In the medical knowledge, however, which this work contained, and which evinced much learning and skill, together with acuteness of observation, he was, unfortunately for his interest, anticipated by Sir John Pringle in his celebrated work on the diseases of the army.

During Dr Grainger’s residence in London, he became intimately acquainted with many of the men of genius then resident there; amongst these were Shenstone, Dr Percy, Glover, Dr Johnson, and Sir Joshua Reynolds; by all of whom he was much esteemed for his amiable manners, and respected for his talents.

The poetical genius of Dr Grainger was first made known by his publishing an "Ode on Solitude," which met with a favourable reception, and was, although now perhaps but little known, much praised by the reviewers of the day. His want of professional success now compelled him to look to his literary talents for that support which his medical practice denied him, and he endeavoured to eke out a scanty livelihood by writing for booksellers; and in this way he was employed by Mr Miller in compiling the second volume of Maitland’s history of Scotland, from the materials left by the latter at his death.

In 1758, he published a translation of the "Elegies of Tibullus." This work was severely handled in the critical reviews, where it was allowed none of the merit which in reality it possesses.

Dr Grainger now got involved in a controversy with Smollet, with whom he had formerly been on terms of friendship. The cause of their difference is not now known, but if it bore any proportion to the severity with which Smollett on all occasions treated his quondam friend, it must have been a serious one. He abused Dr Grainger in every possible shape, availed himself of every opportunity of reviling and humiliating him, and pursued his system of hostility with the most unrelenting bitterness.

Soon after the publication of the "Elegies," Dr Grainger went out as a physician to the island of St Christopher’s, where an advantageous settlement had been offered him. On the voyage out he formed an acquaintance, in his professional capacity, with the wife and daughter of Matthew Burt, esq., the governor of St Christopher’s; the latter of whom he married soon after his arrival on the island. Having thus formed a connexion with some of the principal families, he there commenced his career with every prospect of success. To his medical avocations he now added those of a planter, and by their united profits soon realized an independency.

On the conclusion of the war, Dr Grainger returned for a short time to England. While there, he published (1764) the result of his West India experience, in a poem entitled the "Sugar Cane." This work was also much praised at the time, and certainly does possess many passages of great beauty; but without arraigning the author’s talents, since his subject precluded any thing like sentiment or dignity, it cannot be considered in any other light, than as an ill-judged attempt to elevate things in themselves mean and wholly adapted for poetry.

In the same year (1764) he also published "An Essay on the more common West India diseases, and the remedies which that country itself produces; to which are added, some hints on the management of Negroes." Besides these works, Dr Grainger was the author of an exceedingly pleasing ballad, entitled "Bryan and Pereene." After a short residence in England, he returned to St Christopher’s, where he died on the 24th December, 1767, of one of those epidemic fevers so common in the West Indies.


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