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Significant Scots
John Dalrymple

DALRYMPLE, JOHN, second earl of Stair, was the second son of the first earl, and the grandson of the subject of the preceding memoir. He was born at Edinburgh, July 20, 1673, and, while yet a mere boy, had the misfortune to kill his elder brother by the accidental discharge of a pistol. Although a royal remission was procured for this offence, his parents found it necessary for their own comfort to banish him from their sight, as his presence awakened the most painful associations. He was therefore placed for some years under the charge of a clergyman in Ayrshire, a humane and sensible man, who soon perceived the excellent qualities of his pupil’s character. Under the charge of this person, he became a proficient scholar, and in the course of time, through a series of favourable reports to his parents, he had the satisfaction of seeing the young exile restored to the bosom of his family, of which he was destined to be the principal ornament. The more advanced parts of his education, he received at Leyden, where he was reputed one of the best scholars in the university, and subsequently at the college of his native city. His first appearance in life was as a volunteer under the earl of Angus, commander of the Cameronian regiment, at the battle of Steinkirk, in August, 1692, being then nineteen years of age. For some years afterwards, he devoted himself at Leyden to the study of that profession in which two preceding generations of his family had already gained so much distinction. But, on returning in 1701, from his continued travels, he accepted a commission as lieutenant-colonel of the Scottish regiment of foot guards. In the succeeding year, he served as aid-de-camp to the duke of Marlborough at the taking of Venlo and Liege, and the attack on Peer. In the course of 1706, he successively obtained the command of the Cameronian regiment and the Scots Greys. His father dying suddenly, January 8, 1707, he succeeded to the family titles, and was next month chosen one of the Scottish representative peers in the first British parliament. In the subsequent victories of Marlborough—Oudenarde, Malplaquet, and Ramilies—the earl of Stair held high command, and gained great distinction. But the accession of the tory ministry, in 1711, while it stopped the glorious career of Marlborough, also put a check upon his services. He found it necessary to sell his command of the Scots Greys, and retire from the army.

As one who had thus suffered in the behalf of the protestant succession, the earl was entitled to some consideration, when that was secured by the accession of George I. He was, on that occasion, appointed to be a lord of the bed-chamber, and a privy councillor, and constituted commander-in-chief of the forces in Scotland, in the absence of the duke of Argyle. Next year he was sent as ambassador to France, with the difficult task of conciliating the government of the duke of Orleans to the new dynasty of Britain. It is allowed on all hands that his lordship conducted this business with unexampled address and dignity, his diplomatic skill being only equalled by the external splendours of his cortege. Unfortunately, his usefulness was destroyed in 1719, by the Mississippi enthusiasm. His lordship could not stoop to flatter his countryman, Mr Law, then comptroller-general of the French finances, but whom he probably recollected as a somewhat disreputable adventurer on the streets of Edinburgh. The British government, finding that the hostility of this powerful person injured their interests, found it necessary—if a mean action can ever be necessary—to recall the earl of Stair, notwithstanding their high sense of his meritorious services. He returned to his native country in 1720, and for the next twenty-two years lived in retirement, at his beautiful seat of Newliston, near Edinburgh, where he is said to have planted several groups of trees in a manner designed to represent the arrangement of the British troops at one of Marlborough’s victories. He also turned his mind to agriculture, a science then just beginning to be a little understood in Scotland, and it is a well attested fact, that he was the first in this country to plant turnips and cabbages in the open fields. On the dissolution of the Walpole administration in 1742, his lordship was called by the king from his retirement, appointed field-marshal, and sent as ambassador and plenipotentiary to Holland. He was almost at the same time nominated to the government of Minorca. In the same year, he was sent to take the supreme command of the army in Flanders, which he held till the king himself arrived to put himself at the head of the troops. His lordship served under the king at the battle of Dettingen, June 16, 1743; but, to use the indignant language of lord Westmoreland, in alluding to the case in parliament, he was reduced to the condition of a statue with a truncheon in its hand, in consequence of the preference shown by his majesty for the Hanoverian officers. Finding himself at once in a highly responsible situation, and yet disabled to act as a free agent, he resigned his command. France, taking advantage of the distraction of the British councils respecting the partiality of his majesty for Hanoverian councils, next year threatened an invasion; and the earl of Stair came spontaneously forward, and, on mere grounds of patriotism, offered to serve in any station. He was now appointed commander-in-chief of the forces in Great Britain. In the succeeding year, his brother-in-law, Sir James Campbell, being killed at the battle of Fontenoy, the earl was appointed his successor in the colonelcy of the Scots Greys, a command he had been deprived of thirty-one years before by queen Anne. His last appointment was to the command of the marine forces, in May 1746. His lordship died at Queensberry-house, Edinburgh, on the 9th of May 1747, and was buried with public honours in the church at Kirkliston. It is matter of just surprise, that no monument has ever been erected to this most accomplished and patriotic nobleman—neither by the public, which was so much indebted to him, nor by his own family, which derives such lustre from his common name. His lordship left a widow without children; namely, lady Eleanor Campbell, grand-daughter of the lord chancellor Loudoun, and who had previously been married to the viscount Primrose.

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