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Significant Scots
Sir Thomas Dick Lauder


LAUDER, SIR THOMAS DICK, BART..—When Sir Walter Scott commenced that series of novels with which he so greatly delighted the reading world, we can well remember what a host of imitators sprung up, and how much Scottish novel writing became the rage, and even the frenzy of the day. But the second-hand productions of this new school disappeared as rapidly as they rose; for unless the imitator has a large portion of the genius of his original, his copy can be little better than a wretched caricature. A few writers, however, there were who survived this general annihilation, for in them the imitative principle was supported by strong native talent. Among these we may quote, the foremost, Miss Ferrier and John Galt; and, perhaps, immediately after them, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, the last eminent writer of that school of novelists by whom our national dialect was arrested from the oblivion into which it was hastening.

Sir Thomas Dick Lauder was the eldest son of Sir Andrew Lauder, Bart., of Fountainhall, Haddingtonshire, and was born in 1784. The family was originally of Norman extraction, its founder, De Lavedre, having come from England with Malcolm Canmore, when the latter drove Macbeth from the Scottish throne; and from him descended a race who took part in all the subsequent wars of Scottish independence, and fought gallantly under the banners of Wallace, Bruce, and the Douglasses. It was natural that these family recollections should influence the early studies of Sir Thomas, and inspire him with that love of chivalry and antiquarian research which he afterwards turned to such good account. At an early period he entered the army, and was an officer in the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders). Here he continued only a short period; and, on quitting the army, he took up his residence in Morayshire, where he married Miss Cumming, only child and heiress of George Cumming, Esq. of Relugas, a beautiful property on the banks of Findhorn. From this time till the close of life, he was fully occupied with the civil appointments he held, and with the pursuits of science and literature, in which he sustained a high reputation to the end.

The first efforts of Sir Thomas in authorship, so far as can be ascertained, were in the departments of natural science; and his diligence in these studies is well attested by his numerous contributions to the scientific journals of the day, and especially to the "Annals of Philosophy," edited by the late Thomas Thomson, professor of chemistry in the university of Glasgow. To this magazine we find him, in 1815, and the three following years, contributing papers on the following subjects, from which the nature of his researches can best be understood:—"Account of a Toad found in the trunk of a Beech;" "Account of the Worm with which the Stickleback is infested;" "Account of the Aluminous Chalybeate Spring which has lately appeared on the property of Sir Andrew Lauder Dick, Bart., at Fountainhall, in East Lothian." (To this he subsequently added a register of its diurnal alternations contrasted with the barometer, during nineteen months, a daily list of which had been made by his father, who was also a lover of natural science.) "An Account of the Earthquake in Scotland;" "Account of Different Currents of Wind observed at the same time." But the most important of his philosophical investigations, upon which he had spent much study, and made more than one exploratory journey to the wilds of Lochaber, was contained in his paper "On the Parallel Roads of Glenroy," which he read before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1818. These singular roads, it was generally supposed, had been constructed either by the ancient Celtic kings of Scotland when their royal abode was the Castle of Inverlochy, or by the Fingalian "car-borne" chiefs who had flourished at a still earlier period. Sir Thomas, however, attempted to show, by a careful induction, that these stupendous pathways, instead of being constructed by kings, heroes, or primitive giants, had been formed by the action of the waters of a lake that had stood at different heights, corresponding with those of the shelves, until it had finally burst through its latest barrier in consequence of some great natural convulsion—probably the same that formed the great natural convulsion—probably the same that formed the great glen of Scotland through which the Caledonian Canal has been carried. This simple theory, although it sorely discomfited the lovers of the wonderful, and worshippers of "superstitions eld," was greatly admired by the sober and scientific, not only for originality, but the powerful array of facts and arguments that were adduced to support it, illustrated as it farther was by eight drawings, with which Thomas accompanied his dissertation. This essay, with engravings of his sketches, was published in the "Transactions" of the Society. He had thus not only the merit of throwing new light upon the theory of natrual geological formations in opposition to the artificial, but of directing particular attention to these phenomena of Lochaber, which have been investigated by subsequent geologists, among whom may be mentioned Mr. Milne, and Sir G. S. M’Kenzie. Another subject, of scarcely less importance, that occupied the researches of Sir Thomas, was the natural transport, by means of ice, of a large boulder on the shore of the Moray Frith. His account of this huge isolated stone, and his conjectures as to the mode in which it had found its ultimate landing-place, was published in the third volume of the "Wernerian Transactions," while his theory formed the basis on which several scientific writers afterwards endeavoured to account for still more important revolutions by means of ice, which had been effected over a large portion of the earth’s surface.

The nature of these studies, extending over so many fields, and the reputation which they had already won for him, would have constituted a stock in life upon which most of our comfortable country gentleman would have contentedly reposed to the end. But the mind of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder possessed an amount of intellectual vigour that could not be so easily satisfied; he had only thus commenced, not concluded his career; and after having begun with science, he turned, by way of relief, to the lighter departments of literature, through which he was to be better known to the world at large, than by his more laborious investigations among migratory rocks and water-chiselled highways. On the commencement of "Blackwood’s Magazine,"at the beginning of 1817, he became one of its earliest contributors; and his first tale which appeared in it, under the title of "Simon Ray, gardener at Dumphail," was written with such vigour and truthfulness, that, for a time at least, it was supposed to have proceeded from no other pen than that of Sir Walter Scott himself. Some impression of this kind, indeed, seems at first to have been made by the anonymous contribution upon the conductors of the magazine also, for they appended to the tale the flattering announcement of "Written, we have no doubt, by the author of Waverley." The great era of magazines had now fully commenced, as well as that of steam, in which the impatient mind, no longer booked for the slow conveyance of folios and quartos, was to be carried onward with railway speed; and to the most important of these periodicals Sir Thomas became a frequent and welcome contributor. Besides these light but attractive sketches, he also became a writer in the grave methodical pages of the "Edinburgh Encyclopaedia," for which he drew up the statistical account of the province of Moray. It was in the midst of these, and such other literary occupations, that he succeeded to the baronetcy of Fountainhall, by the death of his father in 1820, and was the seventh who had enjoyed that title.

After having preluded for some time in the department of fiction, and as an anonymous contributor to the periodicals, Sir Thomas Dick Lauder, having now fully essayed his strength, adventured upon the decisive three-volumed experiment, by publishing his historical romances of "Lochindhu" and the "Wolf of Badenoch." The scenery of both of these works was laid in Morayshire, a county with which he was so well acquainted, while the time of action was that which succeeded the days of Bruce, the period when chivalrous warfare was at the hottest in Scotland, while it had Froissart for the chronicler of some of its best passages of arms. It was a right perilous attempt to follow the sandalled steps of the warrior-monk; and Sir Thomas, stalwart though he was, and a knight to boot, was scarcely able to keep pace with his mighty leader. But who, indeed, would read modern chivalrous romances in the hope of finding newer and more stirring deeds of warlike emprise, after what Froissart has written?—or search for keener ridicule of the fooleries of chivalry than can be found in the pages of Cervantes? The attempts of Sir Thomas, therefore, in these productions, partook somewhat of the inferiority of Smollet, when the latter endeavoured, in his "Sir Launcelot Greaves," to produce an English similitude of Don Quixote de la Mancha. It happened unfortunately also for "Lochindhu" and the "Wolf of Badenoch," that their author, not content with entering a field so preoccupied, must needs accommodate himself to the language of the period, by interlacing his phraseology with antique and consequently uncouth words; and thus his style, which after all would have been a patois unintelligible to the 14th century, of which it purports to be the type, becomes utter barbarism to readers of the 19th, for whose gratification it was written. This is generally the fate of such literary compromises; and Sir Walter Scott was guilty of the same blunder, when, in his romance of "Ivanhoe," he jumbled together the characters and events of the early period of Richard Cour de Lion with the refinements of that of Richard III., and crowned the whole with the English phraseology of the days of Queen Elizabeth. But, in spite of these incongruities, "Ivanhoe" is a magnificent epic, and "Lochindhu" and the "Wolf" are heart-stirring, captivating romances. In scenic description and delineation of events, Sir Thomas has approached the nearest to Scott of all the ambitious imitators of the "great unknown" of the period. But it is in individuality of character that he chiefly fails, and his knights, like the brave Gyas, and the brave Cloanthes, are little more than facsimiles of each other. They have all the same complement of thews and bones, and are equally prompt to use them; and they only differ by virtue of the scenery with which they are surrounded, and the historical actions of which they form a part.

But of all the works which Sir Thomas Dick Lauder has produced, that entitled "The Moray Floods in 1829," is perhaps the one by which he will continue to be best appreciated. He had himself not only been an eye-witness of these tremendous inundations, but an active philanthropist in the relief of those who had been ruined by the havoc; and the account which he wrote of the event will long be prized by the lovers of vigorous writing, and vivid, poetical, and truthful description. Another descriptive work which he produced, commemorative of a great national event, was the "Queen’s Visit to Scotland in 1842." But reverting during this long interval to that kind of study which gave full scope to his imagination, as well as brought the varied resources of his experience and observation into complete act and use, he published his "Highland Rambles, with long Tales to shorten the way;" a work which, independently of its attractive narratives, is an interesting memorial of the Celtic character, manners, and superstitions, and the intimate knowledge which he had acquired of them. Besides these original productions, he edited "Gilpin’s Forest Scenery," and "Sir Uvedale Price on the Picturesque." To the latest period of his life, also, he continued to be a contributor to our periodicals, in which his articles, chiefly consisting of Highland and Lowland Tales and Sketches, were always gladly welcomed by the reading public. These, we doubt not, if collected and published in a separate work, would soon become the most popular of his literary productions.

From the foregoing account, it might be supposed that the life of Sir Thomas had been chiefly spent in the study; and that when he emerged into society, it was rather for the purpose of enjoying relief, than taking an active part in its occupations. But, on the contrary, he was an industrious, public-spirited man, fully conscious of the duties of his position, and indefatigable in promoting the best interests of his country. In this way he bestirred himself in the great political questions of the day, and was one of the most active promoters in Scotland of the Reform Bill. In 1839, he was appointed secretary to the Board of Scottish Manufactures, which was soon afterwards united by the Lords of the Treasury to the Board of White Herring Fishery; and as secretary of both, his labours were sufficiently diversified, as well as widely distinguished from each other. It was a Janus-like office, that required a double and opposite inspection—or rather, a planting of "one foot on sea, and one on shore," like the very personification of an inconstant man, which Shakspeare’s ditty so touchingly describes. But faithfully and ably were these opposite functions discharged. In his department of manufactures, Sir Thomas quickly perceived that, in consequence of the extension of our commercial and manufacturing operations, the original purpose for which the Scottish Board had been created was in a considerable degree superseded. He therefore endeavoured to restore it to full efficiency, by adapting it to the progress of modern improvement; and for this purpose he proposed that its surplus funds should be employed in the extension of schools for teaching pattern drawing. On the proposal being sanctioned, he carried it into execution so zealously, that artistic taste was diffused anew throughout our manufactories of fanciful design, and a love of the fine arts promoted among those classes that had hitherto been contented with humble imitations of foreign excellence. His task as secretary of the White Herring Fishery Board was fulfilled with equal diligence; and as one of its duties was an annual voyage round the British coast, and an examination of its places of export, he turned the experience he thus acquired to good account, by aiding in the supply of materials for a narrative of the voyage in 1842, which was written by Mr. Wilson, the naturalist, who accompanied him. He also wrote several books of directions for the taking and curing of herring, cod, ling, tusk, and other fish, which were translated into Gaelic for the instruction of the Highlanders. While so much was accomplished in the course of his professional duties, he was not neglectful of those public movements which concerned the general weal, and from which he might have excused himself under the plea of a press of occupation elsewhere. Among these public-spirited exertions, we can only allude in passing to the interest he took in the proceedings of the original Scott Monument Committee, of which he was one of the most active agents—and his efforts for the construction of the Queen’s Drive round Arthur’s Seat and Salisbury Crags, already become the fairest ornament of the fairest of European cities.

Such was the life of Sir Thomas Dick Lauder to the close—a twofold life of diligent study and active exertion, in each of which he was a benefactor to society, and a distinguished ornament of his country; while several of his writings, translated into the French and German languages, acquired for him a European reputation. His private worth and amenity of character, had endeared him also to the learned and talented, so that scholars, authors, and artists, sought his society, and were benefited by his counsel and conversation. Even strangers were arrested as he passed along the streets of Edinburgh, by the sight of his noble, stately form, long white locks, and remarkably handsome expressive countenance, and felt convinced at once that this man must be some one as much distinguished above his fellows by intellectual as by personal superiority. This round of activity was only interrupted by his last illness, which was occasioned by a tumour on the spine, that for fifteen months incapacitated him for attendance at the Board of Trustees for Manufactures, &c., and finally obliged him to lay aside a work descriptive of the rivers of Scotland, of which part had already appeared in a serial form in "Tait’s Magazine." He died at his residence called the Grange, near Edinburgh, on the 29th May, 1848, at the age of sixty-four.

Independently of the offices we have mentioned, Sir Thomas held that of Deputy-Lieutenant of the county of Haddington; he was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was survived by two sons and six daughters, and succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Captain Dick, who, a short time previously, had retired from the army after fourteen years of military service, as an officer in the East India Company.


Lauder's Books

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Lochandhu

Preface

Loch-an-eilan.—This lake is much embellished by an ancient castle standing on an island within it, and even yet entire, though roofless. As a Highland castle, it is of considerable dimensions, and the island being scarcely larger than its foundations, it appears to rise immediately out of the water —It would not be easy to imagine a wilder position than this, for a den of thieves and robbers, nor one more thoroughly romantic. It is more like the things of which we read in the novels of the Otranto School, than a scene of real life. If ever you should propose to rival the Author of Waverley in that line of art, I recommend you to choose part of your scene here. As I lay on its topmost tower, amid the universal silence, while the bright sun exalted the perfume from the woods around, and all the old world visions and romances seemed to flit about its grey and solitary ruins, I, too, felt as if I would have written a chapter that might hereafter be worthy the protection of Minerva—the Minerva of Leadenhall Street."

MacCulloch’s Letters on the
Highlands of Scotland.

This is a 3 volume publication

Contents

Volume 1

Introductary Address
Chapter 1
Chapter 2

Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Chapter 5
Chapter 6

Chapter 7
Chapter 8

Chapter 9
Chapter 10


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