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The Scottish Nation

BEATTIE, JAMES, LL.D., a distinguished poet, moralist, and miscellaneous writer, was born at Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire, October 25th, 1735. His father, who kept a little retain shop in that village, also rented a small farm in the neighbourhood, in which his forefathers had lived for many generations. He was the youngest son, and his father dying when he was yet a child, his elder brother David, on whom, with his mother, the care of the family devolved, placed him at the village school, where, as he soon began to write verses, his companions bestowed on him the title of “The Poet.” In 1749 he was removed to Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he obtained a bursary or exhibition. He studied Greek under Dr. Thomas Blackwell, author of ‘The Court of Augustus,’ and ‘An Inquiry into the Life and Writings of Homer,’ who was the first to encourage Beattie’s genius. He made great progress in his studies, and acquired that accurate and classical knowledge for which he was afterwards so eminent. In 1753 he obtained the degree of A.M., and having completed his course of study, he was appointed in August of that year schoolmaster and parish clerk to the parish of Fordoun, at the foot of the Grampians, six miles from his native village. It is related of him that he loved at this time to wander in the fields during the night, and watch the appearance of the doming dawn, feeding his young dreams of poesy “in lone sequestered spots.” His early productions, inserted in the Scottish Magazine, gained him some local reputation; and he attracted the favourable notice of Mr. Garden, advocate, afterwards Lord Gardenstone, then sheriff of Kincardineshire, Lord Monboddo, and others in the neighbourhood, who invited him to their houses, and with whom he ever after maintained a friendly intercourse. He had at one time an intention of entering the church; and in consequence attended the divinity class at Marischal College; but circumstances led him to change his views. In 1757, a vacancy occurred in the grammar school of Aberdeen, and Beattie was induced to become a candidate for the situation, but did not succeed. He acquitted himself so well, however, that on a second vacancy in June 1758, he was elected one of the masters of that school. In 1760 he published at London a volume of poems and translations, which, though it met with a favourable reception, he endeavoured at a future period, when his fame was established, to buy up and suppress. Some of these will be found in the Appendix to Sir William Forbes’ Life of Beattie. By the influence of the earl of Errol and others of his friends, he was the same year appointed professor of moral philosophy and logic at Marischal college. Among his brother professors in the Aberdeen universities at that time were such men of genius and learning as Dr. Campbell, Dr. Reid, and Dr. Gregory. In 1762 he wrote his ‘Essay on Poetry,’ which was published in 1776, with others of his prose works. In 1765 he published an unsuccessful poem on “The Judgment of Paris,’ in quarto. He afterwards reprinted it in a new edition of his poetical works which appeared in 1766. On the 28th June 1767 he married Mary, daughter of Dr. James Dunn, the Rector of the grammar school at Aberdeen, his union with whom was not happy, in consequence of a hereditary disposition to madness on her part, which made its appearance a few years after the marriage, and which subsequently caused her to be put in confinement.

      In 1770 appeared the work which first brought Dr. Beattie prominently into notice, viz, ‘An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism;’ written with the avowed purpose of confuting the pernicious doctrines advanced by Hume and his supporters, which at that time were very prevalent. His motives for engaging in this task are fully explained in a long letter to Dr. Blacklock, which will be found in Forbes’ account of his Life and Writings. The design, he says, “is to overthrow scepticism, and establish conviction in its place, a conviction not in the least favourable to bigotry or prejudice, far less to a persecuting spirit, but such a conviction as produces firmness of mind, and stability of principle, in consistence with moderation, candour, and liberal inquiry.” This work was so popular, that in four years five large editions were sold, and it was translated into several foreign languages. The “Essay on Truth,’ which Hume and his friends treated as a violent personal attack, was intended to be continued; but general ill health, and an inveterate disinclination to severe study, prevented him from completing his design. In the same year he published anonymously the First Book of ‘The Minstrel, or the Progress of Genius,’ 4to, which he had commences writing in 1766. This poem was at once highly successful. It was particularly praised by Gray the poet, who wrote him a letter of criticism which is preserved in Forbes’ Life of Beattie. Shortly afterwards he visited London, and was flatteringly received by Lord Littleton, Dr. Johnson, and other ornaments of the literary society of the metropolis. In 1773 he renewed his visit; and owing to the most powerful influence exerted on his behalf, he obtained a pension of £200 a-year, on account of his ‘Essay on Truth.’ George III. received him with distinguished favour, and honoured him with an hour’s interview in the royal closet, when the queen also was present. Among other marks of respect, the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of LL.D. at the same time with Sir Joshua Reynolds. That great artist having requested him to sit for his portrait, presented him with the celebrated painting containing the allegorical Triumph of Truth over Sophistry, Scepticism, and Infidelity. He was also pressed to enter the Church of England by the Archbishop of York and the bishop of London, which he declined, on the ground chiefly lest the opponents of revealed religion should assert that he was actuated by motives of self-interest. One prelate offered him a living worth nearly £500 a-year; which also he refused, “partly,” he says, “because it might be construed into a want of principle, if, at the age of 38, I were to quit, with no other apparent motive than that of bettering my circumstances, that church of which I have hitherto been a member.” In 1774 appeared the Second Book of the ‘Minstrel,’ which has become one of the standard poems in our language. A vacancy having occurred in the chair of natural and experimental philosophy in Edinburgh, he was advised by several of his friends to become a candidate; but this he declined, preferring to remain in Aberdeen. In 1777 he brought out by subscription a new edition of his ‘Essay on Truth,’ to which were added some miscellaneous dissertations on “Poetry and Music,’ “Laughter and Ludicrous Composition,’ and ‘The Utility of Classical Learning.’ In 1783 he published “Dissertations, Moral and Critical,’ 4to, and in 1786 “Evidences of the Christian Religion,’ 2 vols. 12mo. In 1790 he edited an edition of Addison’s papers, which appeared at Edinburgh that year. The same year he published the first volume of his “Elements of Moral Science;’ the second followed in 1793. To the latter volume was appended some remarks against the continuance of the slave-trade. Long before the abolition of that iniquitous traffic was mooted in parliament. Dr. Beattie had introduced the subject into his academical course, with the express hope that the lessons of humanity which he taught would be useful to such of his pupils as might thereafter proceed to the West Indies. His last production was ‘An Account of the Life, Character, and Writings of his eldest Son, James Hay Beattie,’ an amiable and promising young man, his assistant in the professorship, who died in 1790, at the age of 22 (see next article). This great affliction was followed in 1796 by the equally premature death of his youngest son Montague, in his 19th year. These bereavements, with the melancholy fate of his wife, quite broke his heart. Looking at the corpse of his boy, he said, “I am now done with this world;” and although he performed the duties of his chair till a short time previous to his death, he never again applied to study; he enjoyed no society or amusement; even music, of which he had been passionately fond, lost its charms for him, and he answered few letters from his friends. Yet ye would sometimes express resignation to his childless condition. “How could I have borne,” he would feelingly say, “to see their elegant minds mangled with madness!” He had been all his life subject to headaches, which sometimes interrupted his studies; but now his spirits and his constitution were entirely gone. – In April 1799 he was struck with palsy, and, after some paralytic strokes, he died at Aberdeen, August 18, 1803. Subjoined is a portrait of Dr. Beattie from the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds:

      Dr. Beattie’s metaphysical writings are clear, lively, and attractive, but not profound, and the “Essay on Truth,’ once so much read and admired, has now fallen into comparative neglect, from its merits having been much overrated at the time it appeared. His poem of the “Minstrel,’ his ‘Odes to Retirement and Hope,’ and his ‘Hermit,’ will perpetuate his name as one of the most popular and pleasing poets of the eighteenth century, when his philosophical productions are no longer read. “Of all his poetical works,” says Sir William Forbes, “the Minstrel is beyond all question the best, whether we consider the plan or the execution. The language is extremely elegant, the versification harmonious; it exhibits the richest poetic imagery, with a delightful flow of the most sublime, delicate, and pathetic sentiment. It breathes the spirit of the purest virtue, the soundest philosophy, and the most exquisite taste. In a word, it is at once highly conceived and admirably finished.” The descriptions of natural scenery in this fine poem are not exceeded in beauty by those of any of his contemporaries. The following stanza was declared by Gray to be “true poetry:”

                        O! How can’st thou renounce the boundless store
                        Of charms which Nature to her votary yields?
                        The warbling woodland, the resounding shore,
                        The pomp of groves, and garniture of fields;
                        All that the genial ray of morning gilds,
                        And all that echoes to the song of even,
                        All that the mountain’s sheltering bosom shields,
                        And all the dread magnificence of Heaven;
                        O! How canst thou renounce, and hope to be forgiven!

      In private life Dr. Beattie was a man of amiable and unassuming manners; and a warm attachment to the principles of morality and religion pervades all his writings. His life, by Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, baronet, an old and intimate friend of his, which appeared in two volumes 4to in 1806, contains some interesting selections from his private correspondence. In his latter years Dr. Beattie was assisted in the duties of his professorship by his relation, Mr. George Glennie, afterwards D.D., and one of the ministers of Aberdeen, who succeeded him.

Subjoined is a list of Dr. Beattie’s works:

      Original Poems and Translations. Lond. and Edin. 1761. Consisting partly of originals, and partly of pieces formerly printed in the Scots Magazine.

      The Judgment of Paris; a Poem. 1765, 8vo.

      A new edition of his Poems. Second edition. 1766, 8vo. To this edition he added a Poem of the Talk of Erecting a Monument to Churchill, in Westminster-Hall, and by Sir William Forbes, to have been first published separately, and without a name.

      Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, in opposition to Sophistry and Scepticism. 1770, 8vo. Edin. 1771, 8vo. 1772, 1773. Lond. 1774, 8vo. 1776.

      The Minstrel, or the Progress of Genius; a Poem. Book i. Edin. 1771, 4to. Book ii. Edin. 1774, 4to. Published together, with a few juvenile poems. 1777, 2 vols. 12mo. Edin. 1803, 4to. A new edition, with the Life of the Author by Alex. Chalmers, Esq. 1805, 8vo. Book iii, being a continuation of the Minstrel, appeared in1807, 4to.

      Essays on Poetry and Music, as they affect the mind; on Laughter and Ludicrous Composition; on the Utility of Classical Learning. Edin. 1776, 8vo. Loun. 1779, 8vo.

      Dissertations, Moral and Critical, on Memory and Imagination; on Dreaming; the Theory of Language; on Fable and Romance; on the Attachments of Kindred; and Illustrations on Sublimity. Lond. 1783, 4to.

      Evidences of the Christian Religion briefly and plainly stated. Lond. 1786, 2 vols, 8vo.

      The Theory of Language; in two parts.

      Elements of Moral Science. Vol. i. 1790, 8vo; including Psychology, or Perceptive Faculties and Active Powers; and Natural Theology; with two Appendices on the Incorporeal Nature, and on the Immortality of the Soul. Second volume. Lond. 1793, 8vo. Containing Ethics, Economics. Politics, and Logic.

      Remarks on some Passages on the Sixth Book of the Æneid. Trans. Roy. Soc. Edin. 1790, 2d vol. This is, in fact, a dissertation on the Mythology of the Romans, as poetically described by Virgil, in the episode of the descent of Æneas into hell.

BEATTIE, JAMES HAY, son of the preceding, was born at Aberdeen, November 6, 1768. “He had reached his fifth or sixth year,” says his father, “knew the alphabet, and could read a little; but had received no particular information with respect to the Author of his being; because I thought he could not yet understand such information; and because I had learnt from my own experience, that to be made to repeat words not understood, is extremely detrimental to the faculties of a young mind. In a corner of a little garden, without informing any person of the circumstance, I wrote in the mould with my finger the three initial letters of his name; and sowing garden cresses in the furrows, covered up the seed, and smoothed the ground. Ten days after, he came running up to me, and with astonishment in his countenance, told me that his name was growing in the garden. I smiled at the report, and seemed inclined to disregard it; but he insisted on my going to see what had happened. Yes, said I, carelessly, I see it is so; but there is nothing in this worth notice; it is mere chance, and I went away. He followed me, and taking hold of my coat, said, with some earnestness, It could not be mere chance, for somebody must have contrived matters to as to produce it. So you think, I said, that what appears so regular as the letters of your name cannot be by chance? Yes, said he, with firmness, I think so. Look at yourself, I replied, and consider your hand and fingers, your legs and feet, and other limbs; are they not regular in their appearance, and useful to you? He said they were. Came you, then, hither, said I, by chance? No, he answered, that cannot be; something must have made me. And who is that something? I asked. He said, he did not know. I had now gained the point I aimed at, and saw that his reason taught him, though he could not so express it, that what begins to be must have a cause, and that what is formed with regularity must have an intelligent cause. I therefore told him the name of the Great Being who made him and all the world; concerning whose adorable nature I gave him such information as I thought he could in some measure comprehend. The lesson affected him greatly, and he never forgot either it or the circumstance that introduced it.” The first rules of morality taught him by his father were to speak truth and keep a secret, and “I never found,” he says, “that in a single instance he transgressed either.” Having received the rudiments of his education at the grammar school of Aberdeen, he was entered at the age of 13, a student in the Marischal College, and was admitted to the degree of M.A. in 1786. In June 1787 when he was not quite nineteen, on the recommendation of the Senatus Academicus of Marischal College, he was appointed by the king assistant professor and successor to his father in the chair of moral philosophy and logic. In this character, it is stated, he gave universal satisfaction, though so young. He was so deeply impressed with the importance of religion, as always to carry about with him a pocket Bible and the Greek New Testament. He studied music as a science, and performed well on the organ and violin, and contrived to build an organ for himself. He early began to write poetry, and had he been spared, he would no doubt have produced something worthy of his name. But his days were numbered. In the night of the 30th November 1789, he was suddenly seized with fever; before morning a perspiration ensued, which freed him from all immediate danger, but left him weak and languid. Though he lived for a year thereafter, his health rapidly declined, and he was never again able to engage much in study. He died November 19, 1790, in the 22d year of his age. Over his grave, in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Aberdeen, his afflicted father erected a monument to his memory, and, as already stated in the life of Dr. Beattie, his writings in prose and verse were published by the latter in 1799, with a memoir of the author. “His life,” says Dr. Beattie in a letter to the Duchess of Gordon, giving an account of his death, “was one uninterrupted exercise of piety, benevolence, filial affection, and indeed every virtue which it was in his power to practise.” He was an excellent classical scholar, and his talents were considered of the highest order by all who had an opportunity of knowing him.

BEATTIE, GEORGE, author of ‘John o’Arnha’,’ was born in the parish of St. Cyrus, county of Kincardine in 1785. His parents were respectable, and he received a liberal education. In 1807 he commenced business as a writer in Montrose. His abilities soon brought him into notice. He had a strong turn for poetry, some pieces of which have been published. In September 1823 a disappointment in love brought on a depression of spirits, under the influence of which he deprived himself of life, in the church-yard of St. Cyrus, where a tombstone has been erected to his memory, with an appropriate inscription. The fifth edition of ‘John o’Arnha’,’ a humorous and satirical poem, somewhat in the style of ‘Tam o’Shanter,’ appeared at Montrose in 1826, to which was added ‘The Murderit Mynstrell,’ and other poems. The opening lines of ‘The Murderit Mynstrell,’ which is in the old Scottish dialect, are very fine; –

How sweitlie shonne the morning sunne
Upon the bonnie Ha’-house o’Dun:
Siccan a bien and lovelie abode
Micht syle the pilgrime aff his roade;
But the awneris’ hearte was harde as stane,
And his Ladye’s was harder still, I weene.
They neur gaue amous to the poore,
And they turnit the wretchit frae thair doure;
Quhile the strainger, as he passit thair yett,
Was by the wardowre and tykkes besett.
Oh! There livit there ame bonnie Maye,
Mylde and sweit as the morning raye,
Or the gloamin of ane summeris daye;
Hir haire was faire, hir eyne were blue,
And the dymples o’luve playit round hir sweit mou;
Hir waiste was sae jimp, hir anckel sae sma,
Hir bosome as quhyte as the new-driven snawe
Sprent o’er the twinne mountains of sweit Caterhunne,
Beamand mylde in the rayes of a wynterie sunne.
Quhair the myde of a fute has niver bein,
And not a cloud in the life is sein;
Quhen the wynd is slamb’ring in its cave,
And the barke is sleeping on the wave,
And the breast of the ocean is as still
As the morning mist upon Morven Hill.
Oh sair did scho rue, baith nighte and daye,
Hir hap was to be this Ladye’s Maye.

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