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Significant Scots
Robert Kerr


KERR, ROBERT, a miscellaneous writer, was born in the year 1755.[The exact place of his birth is not known; but it was a mansion in Roxburghshire, near the Cheviot hills, where his mother happened to be on a visit at the time. The usual residence of his parents was in Edinburgh.] He was the son of Mr James Kerr of Bughtridge, jeweller in Edinburgh, convener of the trades and M.P. for the city, which honours he held at the same time, [An intimate friend of Mr Robert Kerr supplies us with the following information respecting his father:—"Mr James Kerr was the son of a jeweller in the Parliament Square, Edinburgh, whose shop was attached to the walls of the old cathedral of St Giles; the first on the right hand in going into the square. The house occupied by this person was a mere cellar under the shop, and partly projecting below the adjacent pavement, from which its sole light was derived by means of a grating. In consequence of the family, which was very numerous, being brought up in this miserable and unhealthy hovel, they all died in infancy, except the father of the author, whose life was saved by his being removed to more roomy accommodations on the opposite side of the square. Mr James Kerr was the last citizen who had the honour to represent the city in parliament. It may be mentioned that he was one of the jury on the famous trial of Carnegie of Finhaven, for the murder of the earl of Strathmore in 1728, when, through the persuasive eloquence of the first lord president Dundas, then at the bar, and counsel for the prisoner, the jury recognized the liberty of Scotland, by resuming the right to judge not only or the naked fact, but of the fact and the law conjunctively.] by Elizabeth, daughter of lord Charles Kerr, second son of Robert, first marquis of Lothian. Mr Kerr was educated at the High school and university of Edinburgh; and having qualified himself to act as a surgeon, entered into business as partner with an aged practitioner named Wardrope, whose daughter he subsequently married. He had the misfortune to be very lame in one of his limbs, which caused him to sink greatly to one side in walking. His first literary effort was a translation of Lavoisier’s Elements of Chemistry, published in 1789, in which year he also gave to the world a version of Berthollet’s Essay on the New Method of Bleaching by means of Muriatic Acid and Oxygen. The approbation with which these publications were received, induced him to commence a translation of Linnaeus’s Zoological System; two volumes of which were published, (4to) in 1792, but which did not meet with so much success as to tempt him to proceed with the rest. Having failed with the dry classifications of the Swedish philosopher, he commenced a translation of the more popular work of Buffon on Oviparous Quadrupeds and Serpents, the first volume of which appeared in 1793, and the fourth and last in 1800. The execution of these translations was highly extolled in the reviews of the time, and caused Mr Kerr to be respectfully known in the world of letters.

The political predilections of this gentleman being decidedly whiggish, he published in 1794, a pamphlet, entitled "A Vindication of the Friends of Freedom from the aspersion of Disloyalty;" being designed, as its name imports, to prove that the liberality of his party was not inconsistent with a steady attachment to the existing monarchical form of government. The prevailing tone of his mind was political, and he used to argue on topics which interested him with great ardour and even enthusiasm, insomuch that he often appeared suffering from passion when he was not.

In the year 1794, Mr Kerr was induced to embark his fortune, which was not inconsiderable, in the purchase and management of a paper-mill at Ayton in Berwickshire. The speculation, after a trial of several years, turned out unfortunately, and reduced him in the latter part of life to circumstances very inconsistent with his merits, either as a man or as an author. These circumstances, however, renewed his exertions in literature, after they had been long intermitted. In 1809, he published a General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire, and in 1811, Memoirs of Mr William Smellie, and a History of Scotland during the reign of Robert Bruce, both of which last were in two volumes octavo. About the same time, he conducted through the press, for Mr Blackwood, a General Collection of Voyages and Travels, in eighteen volumes octavo. The memoirs of Mr Smellie, though disproportioned to the subject, contain much valuable literary anecdote. Mr Kerr’s last work was a translation of Cuvier’s Essay on the Theory of the Earth, which was published in 1815 (after his death), with an introduction and notes by professor Jamieson. The event just alluded to took place on the 11th of October, 1813, when he was about fifty-eight years of age. He left one son, a captain in the navy, and two daughters, both of whom were married.

Mr Kerr was a kind and warm-hearted man, liberal and honourable in his dealings, possessed of extensive information, and in every respect an ornament to society.


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