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Significant Scots
John Heriot


HERIOT, JOHN.—This talented and industrious writer in miscellaneous literature, was the son of the sheriff-clerk in East Lothian, and was born at Haddington, on the 22d of April, 1760. He belonged to a literary family, his elder brother George having been the author of a poem on the West Indies, and Travels in Canada. At the age of twelve, the subject of this memoir was sent to the High School of Edinburgh, from which, after having studied the usual course, he was transferred to the University of Edinburgh. But whatever might have been the profession for which he was educated, the plan was frustrated by domestic misfortune, and the consequent dispersion of his father’s family. This event obliged him, in 1778, to repair to London, and afterwards to betake himself to the naval service, by enlisting in the marines. In this capacity he first served in the Vengeance, afterwards in the Preston, and finally in the Elizabeth. During these changes, his experience of a nautical life was chiefly confined to cruises upon the coast of Africa and the West Indies; but in the Elizabeth, commanded by Captain Maitland, he saw more active service, both at Port Royal, and in the engagement of the British fleet, commanded by Sir George B. Rodney, and that of France under de Guichen, on the 17th of April, 1780. On this occasion the action was indecisive; for although the French line was broken, many of the British captains hung back, from their political dislike to Rodney, because he was a Tory, so that he was fully seconded by only five or six ships. Of these the Elizabeth, in which Heriot served as a subaltern officer of marines, was one; and in the unequal contest, in which his ship bore up against two of the enemy, he was among the wounded. During the same year, having exchanged into the Brune frigate of thirty-two guns, he was exposed off the coast of Barbadoes to that tremendous hurricane of the 10th of October, 1780, by which the island was so fearfully devastated, and nearly reduced to ruin. So imminent was the danger to which the Brune was exposed on this occasion, that Heriot ever afterwards commemorated the return of that day as one of solemn festival and devout gratitude. After continuing in the service till the peace of 1783, Mr. Heriot, in consequence of the general reduction, retired with the rank and half-pay of a first lieutenant, after he had been afloat five years.

On coming ashore, Heriot found that his life was to be commenced anew. Upon this occasion, his first proceeding was one of such filial piety as to insure him both long life and success in whatever career he might select; he mortgaged his half-pay that he might assist his parents in their reduced circumstances, although he thereby left himself wholly destitute. Having learned no regular occupation before he went to sea, and having now neither time nor means for such a purpose, he proceeded to turn such scholarship and experience as he had acquired to their best account, by becoming author; and for several years his life was that precarious scramble to which authorship is often doomed before it attains its proper footing. Among his attempts in this way, he wrote a poem entitled "Sorrows of the Heart," and two novels, one of which, entitled "The Half-pay Officer," contained an account of several adventures in which he had been personally engaged; and from the profits of these works he contrived to subsist nearly two years. His next occupation was that of journalism, and he was employed in the "The Oracle," until a misunderstanding with the proprietor occurred, when he removed his services into "The World," of which he became sole editor. This "World," however, was so completely a falling one, that no literary Atlas could have propped it up; and in a short time he was glad to escape from the burden. Still it was fortunate that while journalism was now obtaining that ascendency which the keen and public discussion of great political questions had occasioned, Heriot, by practice, had become an able journalist. His support was therefore worth having; and being a staunch Conservative, and opposed to the over-liberal opinions which the French revolution had engendered in Britain, it was natural that the officers of government should secure the services of such an efficient advocate. Accordingly, one of the secretaries of the Treasury, who admired his talents, proposed that he should start a daily paper, while two other influential government functionaries engaged to support it with funds from their own pockets. Thus assisted, Mr. Heriot, on the 1st of October, 1792, issued the first number of "The Sun," a daily paper, that soon outstripped its contemporaries in the rapidity and wideness of its circulation. Animated by this success, he also started, on the 1st of January, 1793, a daily morning paper called "The True Briton," and continued to edit both journals with great success until 1806, when he was relieved from this oppresive double labour, by being appointed a commissioner of the Lottery. Even while employed in superintending his two daily newspapers, he gave, in 1798, a proof of his indefatigable industry and application, by publishing an interesting account of the battle of the Nile, drawn up from the minutes of an officer of rank in the squadron, which passed through several editions.

After this, the career of Mr. Heriot was one of honour, profit, and comfort. In 1809 he was appointed deputy-paymaster to the troops in the Windward and Leeward Islands, where he resided till 1816, and discharged the duties of the office so much to the satisfaction of the Duke of York, that at his return to England he was appointed comptroller of Chelsea Hospital. In this tranquil situation he remained till his death, which occurred on the 29th of July, 1833.


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