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The Scottish Nation

BRUNTON, a surname evidently derived from the lands of Brunstane on Brunstane burn, a small stream in Mid Lothian, which separates the parish of Duddingston from Inveresk and Liberton on the south, and flows into the Firth of Forth near Fisherrow. The ruins of Brunstane castle on the Esk, built about 1580, are of considerable extent. Crichton of Brunston, the secret agent of Henry the Eighth in the conspiracy against Cardinal Bethune, generally signed himself Brounston in his letters.

BRUNTON, MRS. MARY, an ingenious novelist, the only daughter of Colonel Thomas Balfour of Elwick, was born in the Island of Burra, in Orkney, November 1, 1778. Her mother was Frances, only daughter of Colonel Ligonier of the 13th dragoons, and niece of field-marshal the earl of Ligonier, to whose charge she had early been left an orphan. Under her mother’s care, she became a considerable proficient in music, and an excellent French and Italian scholar. While yet young, she evinced a strong partiality for the perusal of works of poetry and fiction. In her sixteenth year the charge of her father’s household devolved upon her, and from that period till her twentieth year, she had little leisure for self-improvement. When she was only twenty, she married the Rev. Alexander Brunton, then minister of the parish of Bolton, near Haddington, afterwards D.D., professor of oriental languages, and librarian in the university of Edinburgh, and one of the ministers of the Tron church of that city. In the quiet of a Scottish manse, Mrs. Brunton’s taste for books returned in all its strength, and, under the direction of her husband, she pursued a course of reading not only in criticism and the belles lettres, but in philosophy and history. She also acquired some knowledge of the German language, and taught herself to draw. At this time she felt so little inclination for composition, that the mere writing of a letter was irksome to her.

      In autumn 1803, on the removal of her husband to Edinburgh, she accompanied him; and her circle of acquaintances being now widened, she mingled more with people of talent and distinction in literature than she had had the opportunity of doing in East Lothian. It was chiefly for the employment of accidental intervals of leisure, as we are informed by her husband, that Mrs. Brunton began the writing of ‘Self-Control;’ a considerable part of the first volume of which was finished before she informed her husband of her project. This novel was published at Edinburgh in 1811, in two volumes; it was dedicated to Miss Joanna Baillie, and its success was so complete, that it had not been out above a month, when a second edition was called for. the faults of the book were great; but as a first appearance it was a most promising performance. The beauty and correctness of the style, the acuteness of observation, the discrimination of character, and the loftiness of sentiment which it displayed, were universally acknowledged. The work was published anonymously. In December 1814 appeared, ‘Discipline,’ in three volumes; the reception of which was more favourable than the author herself had anticipated. She afterwards designed a collection of short narratives, under the title of ‘Domestic Tales.’ The first of these, the ‘Runaway,’ was to contain the story of a truant boy, whose hardships should teach him the value of home; with which she wished to blend some account of the peculiar manners of Orkney. While arranging her plans for this series of tales, she commenced the story of ‘Emmeline,’ the object of which was to show how little chance there is of happiness when a divorced wife marries her seducer. This tale she did not live to finish.

      In the summer of 1818, Mrs. Brunton had the prospect of being for the first time a mother; but a strong impression had taken possession of her mind, that her confinement was to prove fatal.  Under this belief she made every preparation for death, with the same tranquility as if she had been making arrangements for a short absence from home. The clothes in which she was laid in the grave were selected by herself; she herself had chosen and labelled some tokens of remembrance for her more intimate friends; and she even drew up in her own handwriting a list of the persons to whom she wished intimations of her death to be sent. But these gloomy anticipations, though so deeply fixed, neither shook her fortitude nor diminished her cheerfulness. They altered neither her wish to live, nor the ardour with which she prepared to meet the duties of returning health, if returning health was to be her portion. Her forebodings proved only too well-founded. After giving birth to a still-born son, on the 7th of December, and recovering for a few days with a rapidity beyond the hopes of her medical attendants, she was attacked with fever, which advanced with fatal violence, terminating her valuable life on December 19, 1818, in the forty-first year of her age. In the spring of 1819 the unfinished tale of ‘Emmeline,’ with some extracts from her correspondence, and other pieces, was published by her husband, who prefixed a brief but elegant and affecting memoir of her life, to which we are indebted for these details.

BRUNTON, GEORGE, a miscellaneous writer, the eldest son of a respectable citizen of Edinburgh, was born in that city, January 31, 1799. He received the rudiments of his classical education at the Canongate high school, an institution now discontinued. Having adopted the legal profession, he became in 1831 an advocate’s first clerk, which entitled him to practise as a solicitor before the supreme courts of Scotland. The bent of his genius, however, was towards literary pursuits. He wrote several articles, both in prose and poetry, in the ‘Edinburgh Magazine,’ the ‘Scottish Literary Gazette’ and ‘Tait’s Magazine.’ In 1834, he became editor of the ‘Scottish Patriot,’ an Edinburgh newspaper, as he had previously been of another called the ‘Citizen.’ In conjunction with Mr. David Haig, assistant-librarian to the faculty of advocates, a gentleman distinguished in Scottish history and antiquities, Mr. Brunton published, in 1832, ‘An Historical Account of the Senators of the College of Justice, from its Institution in 1532;’ of which he compiled the earlier portion. It had so happened that at the time Mr. Brunton was collecting materials for a similar work, Mr. Haig had been for a year or two previous engaged in an undertaking of the same nature. An accidental conversation which the latter had with Mr. Brunton in the Advocates’ Library, led to a discovery that, unknown to each other, both were contemplating a work exactly the same, the only difference being in the plan and arrangement. The result was, an agreement between them to combine their researches. About the same time, one of Mr. Brunton’s brothers entered into partnership with the brother of Mr. David Haig, as booksellers and stationers in Edinburgh, and with a view to promote the success of their relatives, they commenced a weekly periodical, entitled ‘The Scots Weekly Magazine,’ which was exclusively devoted to the elucidation of Scottish history and antiquities, and Scottish life and manners; but which not being successful was soon discontinued. In the beginning of April 1836, Mr. Brunton’s declining health induced him to proceed to the Continent, and he died at Paris, June 2 of that year, leaving a widow and three children.

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