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Significant Scots
George Chalmers

CHALMERS, GEORGE, an eminent antiquary and general writer, was born in the latter part of the year 1742, at Fochabers, in Banffshire, being a younger son of the family of Pittensear, in that county. He was educated, first at the grammar-school of Fochabers, and afterwards at king’s college, Aberdeen, where he had for his preceptor the celebrated Dr. Reid, author of the Enquiry into the Human Mind. Having studied law at Edinburgh, Mr. Chalmers removed, in his twenty-first year (1763), to America, as companion to his uncle, who was proceeding thither for the purpose of recovering some property in Maryland. Being induced to settle as a lawyer in Baltimore, he soon acquired considerable practice, and, when the celebrated question arose respecting the payment of tithes to the church, he appeared on behalf of the clergy, and argued their cause with great ability, against Mr. Patrick Henry, who subsequently became so conspicuous in the war of independence. He was not only defeated in this cause, but was obliged, as a marked royalist, to withdraw from the country. In England, to which he repaired in 1755, his sufferings as a loyalist at last recommended him to the government, and he was, in 1786, appointed to the respectable situation of clerk to the Board of Trade. The duties of this office he continued to execute, with diligence and ability, for the remainder of his life, a period of thirty-nine years.

Before and after his appointment, he distinguished himself by the composition of various elaborate and useful works, of which, as well as of all his subsequent writings, the following is a correct chronological list: - 1. "The Political Annals or the Present United Colonies, from their Settlement to the Peace of 1763," of which the first volume appeared in quarto, in 1780; the second was never published. 2. Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain, during the present and four preceding reigns, 1782. 3. Opinions on interesting subjects of Public Law and Commercial Policy; arising from American Independence, 1784, 8vo. 4. Life of Daniel Defoe, prefixed to an edition of the History of the Union, London, 1786; and of Robinson Crusoe, 1790. 5. Life of Sir John Davies, prefixed to his Historical Tracts regarding Ireland, 1786, 8vo. 6. Collection of Treaties between Great Britain and other Powers, 1790, 2 vols. 8vo. 7. Life of Thomas Paine, 1793, 8vo. 8. Life of Thomas Ruddiman, A.M., 1794, 8vo. 9. Prefatory Introduction to Dr. Johnson's Debates in Parliament, 1794, 8vo. 10. Vindication of the Privilege of the People in respect to the constitutional right of free discussion; with a Retrospect of various proceedings relative to the Violation of that Right, 1796, 8vo. (An Anonymous Pamphlet.} 11. Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare Papers, which were exhibited in Norfolk street, 1797, 8vo. 12. A Supplemental Apology for the Believers in the Shakspeare Papers, being a reply to Mr. Malone's Answer, &c., 1799, 8vo. 13. Appendix to the Supplemental Apology; being the documents for the opinion that Hugh Boyd wrote Junius's Letters, 1800, 8vo. 14. Life of Allan Ramsay, prefixed to an edition of his Poems, 1800, 2 vols., 8vo. 15. Life of Gregory King, prefixed to his observations on the state of England in 1696, 1804, 8vo. 16. The Poetical Works of Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, with a Life of the Author, prefatory dissertations, and an appropriate glossary, 1806, 3 vols., 8vo. 17. Caledonia, &c., vol. i., 1807, 4to; vol. ii., 1810; vol. iii., 1824. 18. A Chronological Account of Commerce and Coinage in Great Britain, from the Restoration till 1810, 1810, 8vo. 19. Considerations on Commerce, Bullion and Coin, Circulation and Exchanges; with a view to our present circumstances, 1811, 8vo. 20. An Historical View of the Domestic Economy of Great Britain and Ireland, from the earliest to the Present Times, (a new and extended edition of the Comparate Estimate, Edinburgh, 1812, 8vo. 21. Opinions of Eminent Lawyers on various points of English jurisprudence, chiefly concerning the Colonies, Fisheries, and Commerce of Great Britain, 1814, 2 vols., 8vo. 22. A Tract (privately printed} in answer to Malone's Account of Shakspeare's Tempest, 1815, 8vo. 23. Comparative Views of the State of Great Britain before and since the war, 1817, 8vo. 24. The Author of Junius ascertained, from a concatenation of circumstances amounting to moral demonstration, 1817, 8vo. 25. Churchyard's Chips concerning Scotland; being a Collection of his Pieces regarding that Country, with notes and a life of the author, 1817, 8vo. 26. Life of Queen Mary, drawn from the State Papers, with six subsidiary memoirs, 1818, 2 vols., 4to; reprinted in 3 vols., 8vo. 27. The Poetical Reviews of some of the Scottish kings, now first collected, 1824, 8vo. 28. Robene and Makyne, and the Testament of Cresseid, by Robert Henryson, edited as a contribution to the Bannatyne Club, of which Mr. Chalmers was a member; Edinburgh, 1824. 29. A Detection of the Love-Letters lately attributed in Hugh Campbell's work to Mary, Queen of Scots, 1825, 8vo. All these works, unless in the few instances mentioned, were published in London.

The author’s "Caledonia" astonished the world with the vast extent of its erudition and research. It professes to be an account, historical and topographical, of North Britain, from the most ancient to the present times; and the original intention of the author was, that it should be completed in four volumes, quarto, each containing nearly a thousand pages. Former historians had not presumed to inquire any further back into Scottish history than the reign of Canmore, describing all before that time as obscurity and fable, as Strabo, in his maps, represents the inhabitants of every place which he did not know as Ichthyophagi. But George Chalmers was not contented to start from this point. He plunged fearlessly into the middle ages, and was able, by dint of incredible research, to give a pretty clear account of the inhabitants of the northern part of the island since the Roman conquest. The pains which he must have taken, in compiling information for this work, are almost beyond belief – although he tells us in his preface that it had only been the amusement of his evenings. The remaining three volumes were destined to contain a topographical and historical account of each county, and the second of these completed his task so far as the Lowlands were concerned, when death stepped in, and arrested the busy pen of the antiquary, May 31, 1825.

As a writer, George Chalmers does not rank high in point of elegance of style; but the solid value of his matter is far more than sufficient to counterbalance both that defect, and a certain number of prejudices by which his labours are otherwise a little deformed. Besides the works which we have mentioned, he was the author of some of inferior note, including various political pamphlets on the Tory side of the question.

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