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Significant Scots
John MacDiarmid


MACDIARMID, JOHN, a miscellaneous writer, was born in the year 1779. He was the son of the Rev. Mr Macdiarmid, minister of Weem, in Perthshire. After studying at the universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews, and acting for some time as tutor to a gentleman’s family, he proceeded, in 1801, to London, for the purpose of prosecuting a literary career. He soon obtained lucrative employment as a writer in periodical works, and became editor of the St James’ Chronicle, a newspaper in which some of the first scholars and wits of former years were accustomed to employ their pens. On the renewal of the war with France, in 1802-3, the attention of Mr Macdiarmid was attracted to the system of national defence which had been adopted, and he forsook his other employments to devote himself to a work of a very elaborate character, which appeared in 1803, in two volumes 8vo, under the title of "An Inquiry into the System of Military Defence of Great Britain." He aimed at exposing the defects of the volunteer system, as well as of all temporary expedients, and asserted the superiority of a regular army. His next work was an "Inquiry into the Nature of Civil and Military, Subordination," 1804, 8vo, perhaps the fullest disquisition which the subject has received. Being thus favourably introduced to public notice as a general writer, he began to aim at higher objects, but, it would appear, without properly calculating his own physical capabilities. Mr D’Israeli, who saw him at this time, and who had afterwards the melancholy task of introducing his case into the work called "The Calamities of Authors," describes him as "of a tender frame, emaciated, and study-worn, with hollow eyes, where the mind dimly shene, like a lamp in a tomb. With keen ardour," says the historian of literary disaster, "he opened a new plan of biographical politics. When, by one who wished the author and his style were in better condition, the dangers of excess in study were brought to his recollection, he smiled, and, with something of a mysterious air, talked of unalterable confidence in the powers of his mind—of the indefinite improvement in our faculties; and although his frame was not athletic, he considered himself capable of trying it to the extremity. His whole life, indeed, was one melancholy trial: often the day passed cheerfully without its meal, but never without its page." Under the impulse of this incontrollable enthusiasm, Mr Macdiarmid composed his "Lives of British Statesmen," beginning with Sir Thomas More. For the publication, he was indebted to a friend, who, when the author could not readily procure a publisher, could not see even the dying author’s last hopes disappointed. The work has obtained a reputation of no mean order. "Some research and reflection," says Mr D’Israeli, "are combined in this literary and civil history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries."—"The style," according to another critic, "is perspicuous and unaffected; authorities are quoted for every statement of consequence, and a variety of curious information is extracted from voluminous records, and brought for the first time into public view. His political speculations were always temperate and liberal. He was indeed in all respects qualified for a work of this description, by great power of research and equal impartiality." The poor author was destined to enjoy, for a short time only, the approbation with which his work was received. His health sustained, in November, 1807, an irreparable blow by a paralytic stroke; and a second attack in February, 1808, proved fatal, April 7.


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