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Significant Scots
William Richardson


RICHARDSON, WILLIAM, an elegant miscellaneous writer, and professor of humanity in the university of Glasgow, was born, October 1, 1743, at Aberfoyle, of which parish his father, James Richardson, was minister. After a course of Latin and Greek under the parish schoolmaster, he was placed in his fourteenth year at the university of Glasgow, where he pursued his studies under professors Muirhead and Moor, and distinguished himself by his extraordinary diligence and capacity. Even at this yearly period of his life, he was noted for the composition of verses, which, if not of any high positive merit, were at least thought to display an uncommon degree of taste for so boyish a writer. He thus recommended himself to the friendship of the professors, and at the same time formed an intimacy with Messrs Foulis, the eminent printers, whose notice he is said to have first attracted by the eagerness with which he bade, at one of their sales, for a copy of Marcus Antoninus. When he had finished the usual course of languages and philosophy, and had taken the degree of master of arts, he began the study of theology, with the intention of becoming a clergyman. He had attended nearly three sessions, when the design was laid aside, in consequence of his being appointed tutor to the late Lord Catheart and his brother, then about to go to Eton. At the latter place he spent two years, after which he accompanied his pupils, with their father Lord Catheart, to St Petersburg, whither his lordship was sent as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary. He remained in the Russian capital from 1768 till 1772, during which time he acted also as secretary to Lord Catheart. In the latter year, he returned with his only surviving pupil to the university of Glasgow, and before the commencement of the ensuing session, by the interest of Lord Catheart, who was Lord Rector of the college, was chosen to succeed professor Muirhead in the chair of humanity, the duties of which he performed without any intermission till his death in 1814.

The remaining history of Mr Richardson is the history of his works. His first publication was a small volume, entitled, "Poems, chiefly rural," which appeared in 1774; the next was his "Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of some of Shakspeare’s Remarkable Characters," which appeared early in the succeeding year. The latter volume, containing analyses of the characters of Macbeth, Hamlet, Jacques, and Imogen, was followed up, in 1784, by a sequel, containing Essays on the characters of Richard III., King Lear, and Timon of Athens; and sometime after by a third volume, adverting to Sir John Falstaff, and containing various other critical speculations upon the writings of Shakspeare. The whole were united in one volume in 1797, and have been frequently reprinted. The chief other works of professor Richardson are–"Anecdotes of the Russian Empire;" "The Indians, a Tragedy;" "The Maid of Lochlin, a lyrical Drama, with other Poems;" "The Philanthrope," a periodical essayist, which appeared in London in 1797. He also contributed to Gilbert Stuart’s Edinburgh Magazine and Review, and to the Mirror and Lounger. He wrote the life of professor Arthur, prefixed to that gentleman’s works, and "An Essay on Celtic Superstitions," appended to the Rev. Dr Graham’s inquiry into the authenticity of the poems of Ossian. An Essay on Figurative Language, and other works, were left at this death in manuscript.

The genius of professor Richardson was more elegant than strong; he was rather fitted to produce a tasteful dissertation or an ingenious inquiry, than a work of nervous and original character. Hence his works are now put aside in a great measure by those of succeeding writers. In his professional character he enjoyed a high degree of reputation, and, in private life, his character was singularly amiable. He shone in conversation, at a time when conversation was more an art than it now is. From his earliest years to the period of his death, he cherished the best principles of religion and morality.

After a short but severe illness, he died on the 3rd of November, 1814, in the seventy-second year of his age.


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