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The Scottish Nation
Burnet or Burnett

BURNET, or BURNETT, originally BURNARD, a surname of Saxon derivation. Robert Burnard, who settled in Teviotdale as early as 1128, was the first of the name in Scotland. In the charter of the foundation of the abbacy of Selkirk by Earl David, younger son of Malcolm Canmore, Robertus de Rurnard is a witness, and he, or his son of the same name, is also witness in the same prince’s charters, after he had become King David the First.

      There are two principal families of the name in Scotland, namely, Burnet of Barns, in Peebles-shire, anciently designed of Burnetland, or of that ilk; and Burnet of Leys in Kincardineshire. Both claim the chiefship. The first profess to be descended from the above-named Robertus de Burnard, but there is no trace of them in authentic history till the year 1500, when returns of the services of the portion of a widow of one nomination of tutors to another of the name are extant, by which it appears they had borne for some time the designation of Burnets of Burnetland, but having also acquired lands called Barns, afterwards became designated as Burnets of Barns. Of this family was descended Dr. Alexander Burnet, archbishop of St. Andrews after Archbishop Sharp, that is from 1679 till his death in August 1684. He had previously been bishop of Aberdeen, and subsequently archbishop of Glasgow, and while in the latter see, he preached a funeral sermon of the death of the marquis of Montrose, from the text, “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord,” published at Glasgow in 1673, 4to.

      The other principal family of the name, Burnett of Leys, has flourished for more than five centuries in the north of Scotland. In 1324, Alexander de Burnard, ancestor of the Burnetts of Leys, obtained a charter from Robert the Bruce of lands in the shire of Kincardine. The grandson of this Alexander, John de Burnard, held the office of king’s macer. His eldest son, Robert Burnett, was the first that bore the designation of Leys. Alexander Burnett, eleventh proprietor of Leys, had, with seven daughters, six sons. 1. Alexander, who predeceased his father, without issue. 2. Thomas, first baronet. 3. James, of Craigmyle, progenitor of the Burnetts of Monboddo and Kemno. 4. Robert, Lord Crimond, a lord of session (1661), father of the celebrated Bishop Burnet (see next article). 5. George, died unmarried. 6. John, factor for the Scots at Campvere.

      The second son, Sir Thomas, was created a baronet of Nova Scotia, 31st April 1626. He was an earnest supporter of the covenant. The 3d baronet, Sir Thomas, member for Kincardineshire in the last Scottish parliament, was a strenuous opponent of the union. At the death of Sir Robert, 5th baronet, unmarried, the title devolved upon his cousin, Sir Thomas, 6th baronet, eldest son of William Burnett of Criggie, 2d son of 3d baronet. He married Catherine, sister of Sir Alexander Ramsay, 6th baronet of Balmain, with issue. He died in 1783. His eldest son, Sir Robert, 7th baronet, an officer in the Royal Scots Fusileers, served throughout the first American war, and was taken prisoner at Saratoga, on the surrender of General Burgoyne in 1777. He died in 1837.

      His brother, Alexander Burnett of Strachan, 2d son of the 6th baronet, assumed the name of Ramsay, in lieu of his patronymic, Burnett, and was created a baronet, 13th May 1806, on inheriting the estates of his uncle, Sir Alexander Ramsay, 6th baronet of Balmain. (See RAMSAY.)

      Sir Thomas Burnett, 8th baronet of Leys, eldest son of 7th baronet, died in February 1849, when his brother, Sir Alexander, H.I.C.S., became 9th baronet, and died, unmarried, 20th March 1856. His next brother, Sir James Horn Burnett, succeeded as 10th baronet.

      According to Sir George Mackenzie, the Burnetts of Leys, in their arms carry the hunting horn, in base, with a Highlander in a hunting barb and a greyhound, for supporters, to show that they are the king’s foresters in the north.

BURNET, GILBERT, D.D., a celebrated historian and divine, eldest son of Robert Burnet, of Crimond, (see above), was born at Edinburgh, Sep. 18, 1643. His father, who was strongly attached to episcopacy, was after the restoration appointed one of the lords of session under the title of Lord Crimond. His mother, Rachel Johnston, was sister of Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Warriston. His youngest brother, Sir Thomas Burnet, was an eminent physician in Edinburgh.

      Gilbert, after being instructed by his father in Latin, was at ten years of age sent to Marischal college, Aberdeen, where he took the degree of M.A. before he was fourteen years of age. His inclination at first led him to the study of the law, but he soon applied himself to that of divinity, and was licensed to preach, in 1661, before he had reached his eighteenth year, when his cousin, Sir Alexander Burnet, offered him a benefice, which he refused, on account of his youth. In 1663, about two years after the death of his father, he went for about six months to Oxford and Cambridge. In 1664, he made a tour in Holland and France, where, especially in the former country, he acquired those principles of toleration in religious matters which afterwards distinguished him. On his arrival in London, on his way home, he was admitted a member of the Royal Society.

      On his return to Scotland, he was, by Sir Robert Fletcher, presented to the parish of Saltoun in East Lothian, in 1665, on which occasion he received ordination from the bishop of Edinburgh. He remained at Saltoun for five years, and while there he distinguished himself by his pastoral assiduity. So great was his generosity and self denial, that of his stipend, all that remained above what was required for his own subsistence, he gave away in charity. A parishioner whose goods had been seized for debt, once applied to him for some little assistance. He inquired how much it would take to enable him again to begin business, and on being told he ordered his servant to give him the money. “Sir, said his servant, “it is all the money we have in the house,” “It is well,” was the reply, “go and pay it to the poor man. You do not know the pleasure there is in making a man glad.” Although he afterwards rose to dignity and wealth, he ever retained an affectionate remembrance of the parishioners of Saltoun, his first cure, and on his death he bequeathed twenty thousand merks for the benefit of that parish, to be applied in erecting and partially endowing a new schoolhouse, in enlarging a library for the use of the parochial incumbent, in clothing and educating thirty poor children, and in relieving the necessities of the parochial poor. The children who continue to reap the fruits of his bequest are popularly called “bishops,” and occupy in the church a gallery which bears the name of “the bishop’s laft.”

      While employed in his ministerial duties, Burnet was not inattentive to the neglect and misconduct of many of the clergy who had been thrust into benefices after the violent introduction of episcopacy at the Restoration, and in 1666 he drew up and circulated in manuscript, a strong representation, or memorial, against certain abuses of their authority, which he imputed to the Scottish bishops. In 1668 he was consulted by the government as to a remedy for the disorders that prevailed in consequence of the overthrow of the presbyterian form of church government, which was most in accordance with the feelings, the rights, and the spirit of the people; and at his suggestion the expedient of an Indulgence to the presbyterian ministers was, in the following year, adopted. This, however, only made matters worse, as all compromises have inevitably a tendency to do. About this time he became acquainted with Anne, duchess of Hamilton, who intrusted him with the papers belonging to her father and uncle, upon which he drew up the ‘Memoirs of the Dukes of Hamilton,’ which appeared in London in folio in 1677.

      In 1669 he was elected professor of divinity in the university of Glasgow, and at the urgent recommendation of Archbishop Leighton, whose acquaintance he had made in 1662, he accepted of the appointment, and removed to Glasgow, where, the same year, he published his ‘Modest and Free Conference between a Conformist and a Non-Conformist.’ With Leighton he appears to have lived upon terms of great cordiality, and to Burnet the world is indebted for a copious and most interesting record of the evangelical virtues of that eminent and amiable prelate.

      While engaged upon his memoirs of the dukes of Hamilton, he was invited to London by the duke of Lauderdale, by whom he was introduced to the king. At this time he was offered his choice of one of four vacant Scottish bishoprics, but he refused to accept any of them. Soon after his return to Glasgow, he married Lady Margaret Kennedy, daughter of the earl of Cassillis, a lady of distinguished piety and knowledge, whose sentiments were strongly in favour of the presbyterians. A collection of Letters from this lady to John duke of Lauderdale was published at Edinburgh in 1828.

      In 1672 Mr. Burnet published ‘A Vindication of the Authority, Constitution, and Laws of the Church and State of Scotland,’ in consequence of which he was again offered a Scottish bishopric, with a promise of the next vacant archbishopric, which he also declined. He resisted all the efforts that were made to engage him in support of the oppressive measures of the court. In 1673 he revisited London, when he was appointed one of the king’s chaplains in ordinary. In the ensuing year he deemed it expedient to resign his chair at Glasgow, when he removed altogether to London. The freedom which he used in speaking to the duke of Lauderdale, regarding the measures of his government, lost him the friendship of that unprincipled minister; and his opposition to the popish designs of the court caused his name to be struck out of the list of his majesty’s chaplains. In 1675, on the recommendation of Lord Hollis, he was appointed preacher at the Rolls chapel by Sir Harbottle Grimstone, Master of the Rolls. He was soon after chosen lecturer of St. Clement Danes in the Strand, and became one of the most popular preachers then in the metropolis. In 1679 he published the first volume of his ‘History of the Reformation,’ which procured for him the thanks of both houses of parliament. The second volume appeared in 1681, and the third, which contained a supplement to the two former, in 1714.

      Having attended the sick bed of a woman who had been one of the paramours of the profligate earl of Rochester, that nobleman sent for him, and for a whole winter held various conversations with him upon those topics with which sceptics and men of loose principles attack the Christian religion. The happy effect of these conferences in leading the earl to a sincere repentance, occasioned the publication of Mr. Burnet’s interesting account of the life and death of that nobleman, published in 1680.

      During the affair of the popish plot, Dr. Burnet was often consulted by Charles the Second on the state of the nation. The king offered him the bishopric of Chichester, then vacant, “if he would entirely come into his interests,” but he declined it on such terms, preferring to remain true to his principles. In 1682 he published the Life of Sir Mathew Hale, and some other works. About this time also he wrote his celebrated letter to King Charles, reproving him in the severest style, both for his public misconduct and his private vices. His majesty read it twice over, and then threw it into the fire. In 1683, after the execution of Lord Russell, whom he attended on the scaffold, he was examined before the House of Commons, with regards to that nobleman’s last speech, which it was suspected he had written for him. In 1683 he published a ‘Translation of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia,’ and one or two other translations. In 1684 he was, by mandate from the court, discharged from his lecture at St. Clement Danes, and also prohibited from again preaching at the Rolls chapel. In 1685 he brought out his ‘Life of Dr. William Bedell, bishop of Kilmore.’

      On the accession of James II. and VII. to the throne, he obtained leave to go out of the kingdom, and first went over to Paris, but afterwards made a tour of Italy, an account of which he published in letters addressed to Mr. Boyle. He subsequently pursued his travels through Switzerland and Germany. Having arrived at Utrecht, by the invitation of the prince of Orange he went to the Hague, and had a share in the councils concerning the affairs of England. He became in consequence an object of great jealousy to King James, who ordered a prosecution for high treason to be commenced against him both in England and Scotland; but having obtained the rights of naturalization in Holland, when James demanded his person from the States, they refused to deliver him up. His wife, Lady Margaret, being dead, he about this time married a Dutch lady of fortune, of the name of Mary Scott, descended from the family of Buccleuch.

      Dr. Burnet had a very important share in the whole conduct of the Revolution of 1688, the project of which he gave early notice of to the court of Hanover. He accompanied the prince of Orange to England in the quality of chaplain; and he was rewarded for his services with the bishopric of Salisbury, being consecrated March 31, 1689. In a ‘Pastoral Letter’ to his clergy, concerning the oaths of allegiance and supremacy to King William and Queen Mary, he maintained their right to the throne on the ground of conquest, which gave so much offence, that, three years afterwards, the ‘Letter’ was ordered by parliament to be burnt by the hands of the common hangman. In 1698 he was appointed preceptor to the duke of Gloucester, the son of the princess (afterwards Queen) Anne. On this occasion he wished to resign his bishopric, but was prevailed upon to retain it at the request of King William himself. In preference to all the ministers, he was by the king appointed to name the princess Sophia, Electress of Brunswick, next in succession to Queen Anne, in the famous bill for settling the succession to the throne; and in 1701 he was chairman of the committee to which the bill was referred. Having lost his second wife by the smallpox, in that year he married Elizabeth the widow of Robert Berkeley, Esq. This lady died in 1709, leaving a pious book, entitled ‘Method of Devotion.’ In 1699 he published his ‘Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles.’ The scheme for the augmentation of poor livings, out of the first fruits and tenths due to the Crown, originated with Bishop Burnet. He died 17th march, 1715, and was buried at St. James’, Clerkenwell, where a monument is erected to his memory. His ‘History of his Own Times’ was published after his death by his son, Mr., afterwards Sir Thomas, Burnet. Bishop Burnet possessed a considerable share of vanity and bustling officiousness, and seems not to have had the most capacious judgment, but these weaknesses in his character were amply compensated for, by the excellence of his heart, by his disinterestedness, his courage and his public spirit, and by the remarkable ability which he displayed both as a divine and a historian. The following is his portrait:

portrait of Bishop Gilbert Burnet

      Bishop Burnet’s works are:

      Discourse on the Memory of Sir Robert Fletcher of Saltoun, Edin. 1665, 8vo.

      Sermon preached before the Prince of Orange, on Dan. xii. 3. 1668, 4to.

      Observations on the First and Second of the Canons, commonly ascribed to the Holy Apostles. Glasg. 1673. 8vo.

      Vindication of the Authority, Constitution, and Laws of the Church and State of Scotland, in four Conferences; wherein the Answer to the dialogues betwixt the Conformist and the Nonconformist is examined. Glasg. 1673, 8vo.

      The Mystery of Iniquity unveiled. Lond. 1672, 8vo.

      A Rational Method of proving the Truth of the Christian Religion as it is professed in the Church of England. Lond. 1675, 12mo.

      The Dutiful Subject; a Sermon on Rom. xiii. 5. 1675, 4to.

      The Royal Martyr lamented; a Sermon on 2 Sam. ii. 12. 1675, 4to.

      Relation of a Conference held about Religion, at London, April 3, 1676, by Dr. Stillingfleet and Gilbert Burnet, with some Gentlemen of the Church of Rome. Lond. 1676, 8vo.

      Subjection for conscience-sake, asserted in a Sermon. Lond. 1675, 4to.

      A Vindication of the Ordinations of the Church of England. Lond. 1677, 8vo.

      Memoirs of the Lives and Actions of James and William, Dukes of Hamilton, &c., in which an account is given of the Rise and Progress of the Civil Wars of Scotland, with other Transactions, both in England and Germany, from the year 1625 to 1652. Lond. 1677 fol.

      History of the Reformation of the Church of England. Lond. 1679-81, 2 vols. fol. Vol. iii. being a Supplement to the other two. Lond. 1715, 3 vols. fol. Lond. 1699, 4 vols. fol. Abridged. Lond. 1683, and 1715, fol.

      Letter to the Earl of Rochester as he lay on his Death-bed. 1680, fol.

      The Life and Death of John, Earl of Rochester. 1680, 8vo. 1724, 8vo.

      Fast Sermon for the Fire of London, on Amos iv. 11, 12. 1680, 4to.

      Sermon of the Election of the Lord Mayor, on Matth. xii. 25. 1681, 4to.

      The Policy of Rome; or the True sentiments of the Court and Cardinals there, concerning Religion and the Gospel, as they are delivered by Cardinal Palavicini in his History of the Council of Trent. Lond. 1681, 8vo.

      Letters during the late Contest in France, concerning the Regale. Lond. 1681, 8vo.

      The last Confessions, Prayers, and Meditations of Lieutenant John Stern, delivered by him on the art, immediately before his Execution, to Dr. Burnet; together with the last confession of George Bororky, signed by him in the prison. Lond. 1682, fol.

      History of the Rights of Princes in disposing of Ecclesiastical Benefices and Church Lands. Lond. 1682, 8vo.

      The Life of Sir Matthew Hale, Knt. Lord Chief Justice of England; Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, and Queen Mary. 1682, 2 vols. 8vo. new edit. 1774, 8vo.

      Letter of the Clergy of France to the Protestation. Translated and examined. Lond. 1683, 8vo.

      Copies of certain Letters which have passed between Spain and England, in Matters of Religion. Lond. 1685, 8vo.

      Life of William Bedell, Bishop of Kilmore. Lond. 1685, 8vo.

      A Letter to Simon Lowth, occasioned by his book of Church Power. Lond. 1685, 4to.

      Reflections on Mr. Varillas’ History of the Revolutions that have happened in Europe, in Matters of Religion, and more particularly on his ninth Book that relates to England. Amst. 1686, 12mo. Continuation. Amst. 1687, 12mo. Defence of the same. Amst. 1687, 12mo.

      Travels, with his Answer to Mr. Varillas. Amst. 1686.

      Letters, containing an account of what seemed most remarkable in Switzerland, Italy, &c.  1686, 8vo.

      Travels through Switzerland, Italy, and some parts of Germany, in the years 1685-6. Rott. 1687, 8vo.

      Death of the Primitive Persecutors translated from Lactantius, Amst. 1687, 12mo.

      Letters concerning the State of Italy. 1688, 8vo.

      Reflections on Varillas’ Book of Heresy, as far as relates to English Matters, especially those of Wickliff. Lond. 1688, 12mo.

      Vindication of himself from Calumnies, in Parliamentum Pacificum. Lond. 1688, 4to.

      The Case of Compulsion in Matters of Religion, stated. Lond. 1688, 8vo.

      Sermon preached before the Prince of Orange, on Psalm cxviii. 23. 1688, 8vo.

      An Exhortation to Peace and Union; a Sermon on Acts vii. 26. 1689, 4to.

      Christmas Sermon, on 1 Tim. iii; 16. 1689, 4to.

      Eighteen Papers relating to the affairs of Church and State during the reign of King James II. Lond. 1689, 4to.

      A Letter to Mr. Thevonot, containing a censure of Mr. Le Grand’s History of King Henry the VIII.’s Divorce, with a Censure of Mr. De Meaux’s History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches. Lond. 1689. 4to.

      Six Papers, with an Apology for the Church of England, and an Enquiry into the Measures of Submission. Lond. 1689, 4to.

      Pastoral Letter concerning the Oath of Allegiance to King William and Queen Mary. Lond. 1689, 4to.

      Sermons on various Occasions. London, 1689-94, 4to. Glasgow, 1742, 12mo.

      Some Passages of the Life and Death of John, (Wilmot) Earl of Rochester. Lond. 1692, 1700, 8vo.

      Discourse of the Pastoral Care. Lond. 1692, 4to.

      Letter to the Bishop of Litchfield and Coventry, concerning a book called, Specimen of some Errors and Defects in the History of the Reformation. Lond. 1693, 4to.

      Reflections on the History of the English Reformation. Amst. 4to.

      Four Sermons to the Clergy of the Diocese of Sarum, Lond. 1694, 8vo.

      Essay on the Memory of the late Queen Mary, consort to King William III. Lond. 1695, 8vo.

      Animadversions on Mr. Hill’s Vindication of the Primitive Fathers, against Bishop Burnet. Lond. 1695, 4to.

      Lent Sermon, preached before the King on 2 Cor. vi. 1. 1695, 4to.

      Vindication of his Funeral Sermon on Archbishop Tillotson. Lond. 1696, 8vo.

      Thanksgiving for the Peace; a Sermon on 2 Chron. ix. 8. 1697, 4to.

      The time when Christianity was made known; Christmas Sermon, on Gal. iv. 4. 1697, 4to.

      Lent Sermon on Ephes. v. 2. 1697, 4to.

      Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England. Lond. 1699, fol. 1700, 1720, fol.

      Reflections on a Book, entitled The Rights, Powers, and Privileges of the English Convocation, stated. Lond. 1700, 4to.

      Charitable Reproof; a Sermon on Prov. xxvii. 5,6. 1700.

      Defence, in Answer to the Prefatory Discourse. Lond. 1703, 4to.

      On a Brief for the Exiles of Orange; a Sermon on 2 Cor. xii. 26, 27. 1704, 4to.

      Collection of Tracts and Discourses, written in the years 1677 to 1704. 1704, 2 vols. 4to.

      Exposition of the Church Catechism. Lond. 1710, 8vo.

      Remarks on the Bishop of Salisbury’s Speech in relation to the first Article of Dr. Sacheverell’s Impeachment. Nott. 1710. 4to.

      Preface to the Introduction to the 3d vol. of the History of the Reformation. Lond. 1713, 8vo.

      Fourteen Sermons; with an Essay towards a New Book of Homilies, in Seven Sermons. Lond. 1713, 8vo.

      A Discourse of the Pastoral Care. Lond. 1713, 8vo.

      Four Letters which passed between him and Mr. Henry Dodwell, published by Mr. Rob. Nelson. London, 1713, 8vo.

      Introduction to the 3d volume of the History of the Reformation. Lond. 1714, 8vo.

      Demonstrations of True Religion, in 16 Sermons, at Boyle’s Lecture. Lond. 1726, 2 vols. 8vo.

      History of his own Times. From the restoration of King Charles II. to the conclusion of the Treaty of Peace at Utrecht in the reign of queen Anne, published after his death. Lond. 1724-34, 2 vols. fol. Another edit. 1725, 6 vols, 12mo. The best edition is that by Dr. Flaxman, with Notes, Corrections, and Memoirs of the Author. Lond. 1753, 6 vols, 8vo.

      Letters between him and Mr. Hutchinson on the foundation of Virtue and Moral Goodness. London. 1735, 8vo.

      Abridgement of the Sermons preached at Boyle’s Lectures. Lond. 1737, 4 vols, 8vo.

      Practical Sermons. Lond. 1747, 2 vols, 8vo.

      Thoughts on Education, now first printed from an original Manuscript. 1760, 8vo.

      A Memorial offered to her Royal Highness the Princess Sophia, Duchess-Dowager of Hanover; containing a Delineation of the Constitution and Policy of England; with Anecdotes concerning Remarkable Persons of that Time. 1815, 8vo.


      Bishop Burnet left three sons. WILLIAM, his eldest son, was educated as a gentleman-commoner in the university of Cambridge and made choice of the profession of the law. He was a great sufferer in the South Sea scheme of 1720, and became governor, first of New York and New Jersey, and subsequently of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. He died at Boston in 1729. He was the author of a tract, entitled ‘A View of Scripture Prophecy.’


GILBERT, the second son, was educated at Leyden and Oxford for the church. He was made king’s chaplain in 1718; and is said to have been a contributor to a periodical published at Dublin in 1725-6-7, entitled ‘Hibernicus’s Letters,’ and also to another called “The Freethinker.’ He distinguished himself as a writer on the side of Bishop Hoadly in the Bangorian controversy, and was considered by that eminent prelate as one of his ablest defenders. In 1719 he published an abridgement of the third volume of his father’s History of the Reformation. He died early.

      Gilbert’s works are:

      An Abridgement of the 3d vol. of his Father’s History of the Reformation, 1719.

      The Generation of the Son of God as taught in Scripture, considered. Lond. 1720, 8vo.

      On the Accession; a Sermon on Deut. iv. 6-8, 1725, 8vo.

      A Letter to the Rev. Mr. Trapp, occasioned by his Sermon on the real Nature of the Church and Kingdom of Christ.

      An Answer to Mr. Law’s Letter to the Lord Bishop of Bangor.

      A Full and Free Examination of several Important Points relating to Church Authority, the Christian Priesthood, the Positive Institutions of the Christian Religion, and Church Communion, in Answer to the Notions and Principles contained in Mr. Law’s second Letter to the Lord Bishop Bangor.

      The Free Thinker, afterwards collected into 3 vols. 12mo.

      Forty-eight Practical Sermons on Various Subjects. 1747, 2 vols, 8vo.


THOMAS, the third son, studied at Leyden and Oxford, and was destined for the law. By his dissipation in early life, he gave his father much uneasiness. In 1712 and 1713, he wrote several political pamphlets in favour of the Whigs, and against the administration of the last four years of Queen Anne. One of these caused his being taken into custody in January 1713. One day being unusually grave, his father asked him what was the subject of his meditation: – “My own reformation, my lord.” He afterwards became one of the best lawyers of his time. He was for several years his majesty’s consul at Lisbon; and in 1741 was appointed one of the judges of the court of common pleas. He also received the honour of knighthood, and was admitted a member of the Royal Society. He died January 5, 1753. He was introduced by Pope into the Dunciad; and some poems of his were published in 1777.

      Sir Thomas Burnet’s works are:

      A Letter to the People, to be left for them at the Booksellers, with a word or two of the Band-Box Plot.

      Our Ancestors as wise as we, or Ancient Precedents for Modern Facts, in Answer to a Letter from a Noble Lord.

      The History of Ingratitude, or a Second Part of Ancient Precedents for Modern Facts.

      Truth, if you can find it; or a character of the present Ministry and Parliament.

      A certain Information of a certain Discourse that happened at a certain Gentleman’s House, in a certain Country, written by a certain Person then present, to a certain Friend now at London, from whence you may collect the great certainty of the Account.

      Some new Proofs, by which it appears, that the Pretender is truly James the Third: the whole of these published in 1712-13. anon.

      The Necessity of Impeaching the late Ministry, in a Letter to the Earl of Halifax. Lond. 1715, 8vo.

      A Travestie of the First Book of the Iliad, under the title of Homerides in conjunction with Mr. Ducket. 1715.

      The First Volume of his Father’s History of his own Time, with Explanatory Notes. 1723.

      Some remarks in defence of the preceding. 1732.

      The Second Volume of his Father’s History, to which he added, A Life of that eminent Prelate. 1734.

      Verses written on several occasions, between the years 1712-21. Lond. 1777, 4to.

BURNET, THOMAS (Sir), an eminent physician of the seventeenth century, a brother of the celebrated Bishop Burnet, practised at Edinburgh, and had the degree of M.D. Very little is known concerning him. On the title-pages of his books he styled himself “Medicus Regius, et Collegii Regii Medicorum Edinburgensis Socius.’ He was a friend of Sir Robert Sibbald, and joined with him in a formal declaration against some oppressive and unwarrantable proceedings of the College of Physicians at Edinburgh, in relation to the summary suspension of some of the members, which declaration is dated 20th November 1699. The date of his death is unknown. He left two very useful works, the titles of which are:

      Thesaurus Medicinae Practicae praestantissimorum observationibus collectus. Lond. 1673, 4to. A collection from the best practical writers, and treating of 410 diseases, with their causes, signs, and methods of cure. In the end he gives some account of Ruminating Man. Of this work twelve editions are enumerated by Haller, the last of which, greatly enlarged by the author was published at Geneva, in 1698, 4to.

      Hypocrates contractus, in quo Hipocratis omnia in brevem epitomen reducta debentur. Edin. 8vo, 1685. a neat edition of this work was published at London in 1748.

BURNET, JAMES, an eminent lawyer, and a learned and ingenious writer, better known by his judicial title of Lord Monboddo, son of James Burnet, Esq. of Monboddo, and Elizabeth, only sister of Sir Arthur Forbes of Craigievar, Bart., was born in 1714, at the family seat in Kincardineshire. He was educated at home, under Dr. Francis Skene, afterwards professor of philosophy in Marischal college, Aberdeen, and was subsequently sent to study at that university, where he distinguished himself by his proficiency in ancient literature, the study of which, in after life, became his ruling passion. Being designed for the bar, according to the custom at the time he repaired to Holland to study the civil law, and after attending for three years the lectures in the university of Groningen, he came to Edinburgh, where he arrived on the forenoon of September 7, 1736, and that night was an involuntary witness of the famous Porteous Mob. His lodgings were in the Lawnmarket, near the Bowhead, and when about to retire to rest, his curiosity was excited by a noise and tumult in the street. In place of going to bed he slipped to the door half undressed, and with his nightcap on his head. He speedily got entangled in the crowd, and was hurried along with it to the Grassmarket, where the unfortunate Captain Porteous was summarily executed by the mob. This scene made so deep an impression on his mind as not only to deprive him of sleep during the remainder of the night, but to induce him to think of leaving the city altogether. Being by some one who knew him recognised in the crowd, in the sort of disguise which his half dressed condition seemed to indicate, he was in danger of being brought into trouble for his unwilling share in the transaction of that memorable night, and was only saved from being implicated by being able to prove that he had only that very day arrived in Edinburgh fro pursuing his studies on the continent, and consequently knew nothing of the matter till borne away with the crowd, as above stated. In after life his lordship frequently related this incident, and described with much force the effect which it had upon him at the time.

      He passed his civil law examinations upon the 12th of February 1737, and, being found duly qualified, was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates. His practice at the bar, in course of time, came to be considerable, but he may be said to have been first brought prominently into notice in consequence of being engaged as counsel for Mr. Douglas, in the celebrated Douglas cause. In his client’s behalf he went thrice to France to assist in leading the proof taken there. In 1764 he was appointed sheriff of his native county, Kincardineshire, and on the 12th February 1767, he was, through the interest of the duke of Queensberry, then lord-justice-general, raised to the bench of the court of session, as successor to Lord Milton, when he assumed the title of Lord Monboddo. His first work was on the ‘Origin and Progress of Language,’ the first volume of which appeared in 1771, the second in 1773, and the third in 1776. This work was so severely criticised in the ‘Edinburgh Magazine and Review,’ by Dr. Gilbert Stuart, its editor, that it is said the downfall of that publication, from the general offence which the article gave, was the consequence. His greatest work he styled ‘Ancient Metaphysics,’ or the Science of Universals, with an appendix, containing an Examination of Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophy, also in 3 vols, 4to. the first published in 1778, and the last in 1799, only a few weeks before his death. Lord Monboddo was an enthusiastic admirer of the works of Plato and the Grecian philosophers. He carried his enthusiasm in favour of classical literature so far as to get up suppers in imitation of the ancients. These he called his learned suppers. He gave them once a-week, and his guests generally were Drs. Black, Hutton, and Hope, and Mr. William Smellie, printer, including occasionally Mr. Alexander Smellie, his son.  His lordship was very partial to a boiled egg, and often used to say, “Show me any of your French cooks, who can make a dish like this.”

      Lord Monboddo’s writings contain many acute and interesting observations, but they, at the same time, exhibit some peculiar and very singular opinions. He was a firm believer in the existence of satyrs and mermaids, and in his dissertation on the ‘Origin and Progress of Language,’ he advanced some whimsical theories, relative to a supposed affinity between the human race and the monkey tribe, particularly that the former “were originally gifted with tails,” an assertion which exposed him to a good deal of ridicule on the first publication of that work. It was in allusion to this extraordinary idea that Lord Kames, to whom he would on a certain occasion have conceded precedency, declined it, saying, “By no means, my lord, you must walk first that I may see your tail!” His patrimonial estate was small, producing only during his life about three hundred pounds a-year, yet he would never raise his rents, nor dismiss a poor tenant for the sake of obtaining an increase from a new one. It was his boast to have his lands more numerously peopled than any estate of equal size in the neighbourhood. When in the country, during the vacation of the court of session, he wore the dress of a plain farmer, and lived on a looting of familiarity with his tenantry, which greatly endeared him to them. His private life was spent in the enjoyment of domestic felicity and in the practice of all the social virtues. though his habits were rigidly temperate, he took great delight in the convivial society of his friends. He was a zealous patron of merit, and amongst those who experienced his friendship was the poet Burns. An annual journey to London became a favourite recreation of his during the vacations of the court of session. He first began the practice in 1780, and continued it for many years, till he was upwards of eighty years of age. In May 1785, during one of these visits to the metropolis, he was present in the Court of King’s Bench, when an alarm was raised that the court room was falling, and judges, lawyers, and audience, rushed simultaneously towards the door. Lord Monboddo, however, being short-sighted and rather deaf, sat still unconcerned; and on being asked why he did not bestir himself to avoid being buried in the ruins, coolly replied, “That he thought it was an annual ceremony, with which, as an alien to the English laws, he had nothing to do.” He performed all his journeys between Edinburgh and London on horseback, with a single servant attending him. A carriage, a vehicle that was not in common use among the ancients, he considered as an effeminate conveyance; to be dragged at the tails of horses, instead of being mounted on their backs, seemed in his eyes to be a ludicrous degradation of the genuine dignity of human nature. He continued this practice till he was upwards of eighty years of age. On his return from his last visit, he became very ill on the road, and unable to proceed, and had he not been overtaken by his friend, Sir John Pringle, who prevailed upon him to travel the remainder of the stage in a carriage, he might perhaps have perished on his journey. While in London he often went to court, and the king is said to have taken pleasure in his conversation. He died at Edinburgh May 26, 1799, at the advanced age of 85.

      The following is a portrait of Lord Monboddo by Kay:

portrait of Lord Monboddo

      In spite of his eccentricities, Lord Monboddo was a man of real learning and ability, an acute lawyer, and an upright judge. He did not generally assent to the decisions of his colleagues. On the contrary, he was often in the minority , and not unfrequently stood alone, and more than once had the gratification of having his decision confirmed in the House of Peers, when it was directly opposed to the unanimous opinion of his brethren. Even in his official capacity many peculiarities marked his lordship’s conduct. Amongst these was his never sitting on the bench with the other judges, but underneath with the clerks; but though this practice was said to have been owing to the circumstance of their lordships having on one occasion decerned against him, in a case when he was pursuer for the value of a horse, and it which he pleaded his own cause at the bar, the deafness under which he laboured affords a much more satisfactory reason. the first time he sat there was upon occasion of the decision of the Douglas cause, when having been originally, as mentioned above, the leading counsel on behalf of Mr. (afterwards Lord) Douglas, he felt a delicacy in giving his opinion from the bench, and preferred delivering it at the clerk’s table. His speech in favour of the paternity is admitted to have been the most able one on that side of the question. His character is thus summed up in the first four lines of an epitaph written on him by the unfortunate James Tytler, who had experienced his benevolence:

                        “If wisdom, learning, worth demand a tear,
                        Weep o’er the dust of great Monboddo here;
                        A judge upright, to mercy still inclined,
                        A gen’rous friend, a father fond and kind.”

He married, about 1760, the beautiful Miss Farquharson, a relative of Marshal Keith, by whom he had a son and two daughters. His wife died in childbed; his son died young, and his second daughter was cut off by consumption at the early age of twenty-five. Her beauty was thus, in his ‘Address to Edinburgh,’ celebrated by Burns:

                        “Thy daughters bright thy walks adorn!
                              Gay as the gilded summer sky,
                        Sweet as the dewy milk-white thorn,
                              Dear as the raptured thrill of joy!

                        Fair Burnet strikes th’ adoring eye,
                              Heaven’s beauties on my fancy shine;
                        I see the Sire of love on high,
                              And own his work indeed divine.”

And her early death was most touchingly commemorated by him, in his ‘Elegy on the late Miss Burnet of Monboddo,’ of which the following are the commencing verses:

                        “Life ne’er exulted in so rich a prize
                        As Burnet, lovely from her native skies;
                        Nor envious death so triumph’d in a blow,
                        As that which laid the accomplish’d Burnet low.

                        Thy form and mind, sweet maid, can I forget?
                        In richest ore the brightest jewel set!
                        In thee, high Heaven above was truest shown,
                        As by his noblest work the Godhead best is known.

                        In vain ye flaunt in summer’s pride, ye groves;
                              Thou crystal streamlet with thy flowery shore,
                        Ye woodland choir that chaunt your idle loves.
                              Ye cease to charm – Eliza is no more!

Burns was a frequent guest at 13 John Street, Lord Monboddo’s town residence, during the poet’s stay in Edinburgh in 1788. His lordship’s eldest daughter was married to the late Kirkpatrick Williamson, Esq., formerly his clerk, afterwards keeper of the Outer House rolls. – Scots Magazine for 1797. – Tytler’s Life of Lord Kaimes. – Kay’s Edinburgh Portraits.

BURNET, JAMES, a landscape painter of great promise, fourth son of George Burnet, general surveyor of excise in Scotland, and Anne Cruikshank, his wife, was born at Musselburgh in 1788. The family belonged originally to Aberdeen. He early displayed a taste for drawing, and with his brother John, who is acknowledged the first modern engraver in Europe, received instructions in the studio of Scott, the landscape painter. He afterwards studied at the Trustees’ academy, under Graham, and was noticed for the natural truth and beauty of his delineations. In 1810 he arrived in London. “He had sought,” says his biographer, Allan Cunningham, “what he wanted in the academy, but found it not; he therefore determined, like Gainsborough, to make nature his academy; and with a pencil and sketch-book he might be seen wandering about the fields around London, noting down scenes which caught his fancy, and peopling them with men pursuing their avocations, and with cattle of all colours, and in all positions.” His first picture was ‘Cattle going out in the Morning,’ which was soon followed by ‘Cattle returning Home in a shower.’ The latter placed him in the first rank as a pastoral painter. Ten other productions of his are mentioned with great praise, mostly cattle-pieces. Several of those pictures were eagerly sought after, and purchased by different noblemen at high prices, others were reserved for his relations and friends. This promising young artist resided in his latter days near Lee, in Kent, the beautiful churchyard of which was one of his favourite resorts. He died of consumption, July 27, 1816, aged 28 years, and was buried at Lewisham. – Allan Cunningham’s Lives of Painters.

BURNET, JOHN, founder of the literary prizes at Aberdeen, was born in that city in 1729. His father was an eminent merchant there, and he himself, after receiving a liberal education, in the year 1750 commenced business on his own account as a general merchant. His parents were of the episcopal communion, but though educated in that profession and undoubtedly a man of piety and virtue, he himself never attended public worship; his religious sentiments not being in unison with those of any Christian church. Having acquired a fortune in trade, about 1773 he and one of his brothers, who had then returned from India, discharged the debts of their father, paying on his account between £7,000 and £8,000. He was never married, and died November 9, 1784. His small landed estate of Dens in Buchan, Aberdeenshire, was inherited by his brother, and afterwards by his nephew. With the exception of this property, and of some moderate legacies and annuities to various relatives, the remainder of his fortune was bequeathed to charitable purposes. A small portion he directed to be set apart, annually, and allowed to accumulate, first, for two prizes on subjects prescribed; and, secondly, for the benefit of the poor of Aberdeen. This accumulated fund is for ever to be applied to its objects at the end of every fortieth year. The accumulation of the first 25 years, if not less than £1,600, was to be given thus: £1,200 for the best essay, and £400 for the next in merit, on “the evidence that there is a Being, all-powerful, wise, and good, by whom everything exists; and particularly to obviate difficulties regarding the wisdom and goodness of the Deity; and this, in the first place, from considerations independent of written revelation, and, in the second place, from the revelation of the Lord Jesus; and from the whole to point out the inferences most necessary and useful to mankind.” The premiums were to be awarded by three judges, chosen by the principals and professors of King’s and Marischal colleges, the established clergy of Aberdeen, and the trustees of the testator. These prizes were first announced to the public in 1807, and repeated notices were given in the newspapers of their amount, and the subject and conditions of the essays, one of which was that they were to be given in on 1st January 1814. On that occasion the judges awarded the prizes in favour of the treatises of William Laurence Brown, D.D., then principal of Marischal college, and the Rev. John Bird Sumner, of Eton college, afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, which have both been published.

BURNETT, JOHN, author of a valuable treatise on various branches of the Criminal Law of Scotland, was born at Aberdeen about 1764. He was the son of William Burnett, procurator-at-law in that city, and, having been educated for the bar, was admitted advocate December 10, 1785. In 1792 he was appointed advocate-depute; and, in October 1803, on the resignation of law of Elvingston, was created sheriff of Haddingtonshire. In April 1810, on the death of the learned R.H. Cay, he was appointed judge-admiral of Scotland. He was also for some time standing counsel for his native city. He died December 8, 1810, while engaged printing his work on the Criminal Law.

Entries for this name in the Dictionary of National Biography

Lord Bishop of Sarum. He was descended from the Honourable Family of the Burnets of Leyes, in the North of Scotland (1715) (pdf)

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