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Significant Scots
David Doig

DOIG, DR DAVID, the son of a small farmer in the county of Angus, was born in the year 1719. His father dying while he was still an infant, he was indebted for subsistence to a stepfather, who, although in very moderate circumstances, and burdened with a young family, discharged to him the duty of an affectionate parent. From a constitutional defect of eyesight, he was twelve years of age before he had learned to read; he was enabled, however, by the quickness of his intellect, and the constancy of his application, amply to redeem his lost time: his progress was so rapid, that after three years’ attendance at the parochial school, he was the successful candidate for a bursary in the university of St Andrews. Having finished the usual elementary course of classical and philosophical education, he took the degree of bachelor of arts, and commenced the study of divinity, but was prevented from completing his studies by some conscientious scruples regarding certain of the articles in the presbyterian confession of faith. Thus diverted from his original intention of entering the church, he taught for several years, the parochial schools of Monifeith in Angus, and Kennoway and Falkland in Fifeshire. His great reputation as a teacher then obtained for him, from the magistrates of Stirling, the appointment of rector of the grammar school of that town; which situation he continued to fill with the greatest ability for upwards of forty years. It is a curious coincidence, that on one and the same day, he received from the university of St Andrews a diploma as master of arts, and from the university of Glasgow, the honorary degree of doctor of laws.—Dr Doig died March 16th, 1800, at the age of eighty-one.

In addition to a profound knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages, both of which he wrote with classical purity, Dr Doig had made himself master of the Hebrew, Arabic, and other oriental languages, and was deeply versed in the history and literature of the East. Of his proficiency in the more abstruse learning, he has afforded abundant proof in his dissertations on Mythology, Mysteries, and Philology, which were written at the request of his intimate friend, and the companion of his social hours, the Rev. Dr George Gleig, and published in the Encyclopaedia Britannica; of which work, that able and ingenious clergyman edited the last volumes, and was himself the author of many of the most valuable articles which the book contains. That part of the Encyclopaedia containing the article Philology, written by Dr Doig, having been published in the same week with a Dissertation on the Greek verb, by Dr Vincent, afterwards Dean of Westminster, that author was so much struck with the coincidence, in many points, with his own opinions, that he commenced an epistolary correspondence with Dr Doig: and these two eminent philologists, by frequent communication, assisted and encouraged each other in their researches on these subjects. The same liberal interchange of sentiment characterized Dr Doig’s correspondence with Mr Bryant, in their mutual inquiries on the subject of ancient mythology. Amongst other proofs which Dr Doig gave of his profound learning, was a Dissertation on the Ancient Hellenes, published in the Transactions of the royal society of Edinburgh.

The most remarkable event of Dr Doig’s literary life, however, was his controversy with lord Kames. That eminent philosopher, in his Essay on Man, had maintained, as the foundation of his system, that man was originally in an entirely savage state, and that by gradual improvement, he rose to his present condition of diversified civilization. These opinions were combated by Dr Doig, who endeavoured to prove, that they were neither supported by sound reason, nor by historical fact; while they were at the same time irreconcileable with the Mosaic account of the creation. In the bible, the historical details of the earliest period present man in a comparatively advanced state of civilization; and if we resort to profane history, we find that the earliest historical records are confirmatory of the sacred books, and represent civilization as flowing from those portions of the globe—from the banks of the Euphrates and the Nile—which the biblical history describes as the seat of the earliest civilization. Modern history is equally favourable to Dr Doig’s system. In Eastern Asia, we find nations remaining for thousands of years in identically the same state of improvement, or if they have moved at all, it has been a retrograde movement. In Africa also, we perceive man in precisely the same condition in which the Greek and Roman writers represent him to have been two thousand years ago. Europe alone affords an example of progress in civilization, and that progress may be easily traced to intercourse with the eastern nations. Man seems to possess no power to advance unassisted, beyond the first stage of barbarism. According to Dr Robertson, "in every stage of society, the faculties, the sentiments, and the desires of men, are so accommodated to their own state, that they become standards of excellence to themselves; they affix the idea of perfection and happiness to those attainments which resemble their own, and where-ever the objects of enjoyment to which they have been accustomed are wanting, confidently pronounce a people to be barbarous and miserable." The impediments which prejudice and national vanity thus oppose to improvement were mainly broken down in Europe by the crusades and their consequences, whereby the civilization of the East was diffused through the several nations in Europe. America presents the only instance of a people having advanced considerably in civilization unassisted, apparently, by external intercourse. The Mexicans and Peruvians, when first discovered, were greatly more civilized than the surrounding tribes: but although this be admitted, yet, as it still remains a debateable question whence the people of America derived their origin, and as the most plausible theory represents them as having migrated from the nations of eastern Asia, it may, after all, be contended, that the Mexicans and Peruvians had rather retrograded than advanced, and that, in truth, they only retained a portion of the civilization which they originally derived from the same common source.

Dr Doig’s controversy with lord Kames was maintained in two letters addressed to his lordship, but which were not published until 1793, several years after the death of lord Kames; they led, however, to an immediate intimacy between the controvertists, of the commencement of which we have an interesting anecdote.—The first of these letters "dated from Stirling, but without the subscription of the writer, was transmitted to lord Kames, who was then passing the christmas vacation at Blair-Drummond; his curiosity was roused to discover the author of a composition which bore evidence of a most uncommon degree of learning and ingenuity. In conversing on the subject with an intimate friend, Dr Graham Moir of Leckie, a gentleman of taste and erudition, and of great scientific knowledge, who frequently visited him in the country, his lordship producing the letter of his anonymous correspondent, ‘In the name of wonder,’ said he, ‘Doctor, what prodigy of learning have you got in the town of Stirling, who is capable of writing this letter, which I received a few days ago!’ The doctor, after glancing over a few pages, answered, ‘I think I know him,— there is but one man who is able to write this letter, and a most extraordinary man he is;—David Doig, the master of our grammar school.’—‘What!’ said lord Kames, ‘a genius of this kind, within a few miles of my house, and I never to have heard of him. And a fine fellow, too: he tells his mind roundly and plainly; I love him for that:—he does not spare me: I respect him the more:—you must make us acquainted, my good doctor: I will write him a card; and to morrow, if you please, you shall bring him to dine with me.’ The interview took place accordingly; and to the mutual satisfaction of the parties. The subject of their controversy was freely and amply discussed; and though neither of them could boast of making a convert of his antagonist, a cordial friendship took place from that day, and a literary correspondence began, which suffered no interruption during their joint lives."

We have various testimonies of the high respect in which Dr Doig was held by all who were acquainted with him, and the sincere regard felt for him by his friends. Mr Tytler, in his life of lord Kames, embraces the opportunity while treating of the controversy between him and lord Kames, to give a short outline of his life, as a small tribute of respect to the memory of a man whom he esteemed and honoured; and whose correspondence for several years, in the latter part of his life, was a source to him of the most rational pleasure and instruction. John Ramsay of Ochtertyre raised a mural tablet to his memory, on which be placed the following inscription:


Farewell through time!
The conversation, the meals, the journeys,*
Which I have had with thee,
On the banks of the Teith,
Where, well pleased we often strayed together
Be it my consolation
To muse upon thy good qualities.
On thee, an orphan, thy heavenly Father
Bestowed the seeds of Genius:
To thee, even when well stricken in years,
Labour itself was delight.
Than thee, few more rich in literature,
None of the learned more unassuming.
In thy converse mildly shone
Candour, kindness, amiable virtue,
More engaging than the glare of genius.
When thou died’st, aged fourscore,
Townsmen, scholars, and companions,
Dropt a tender tear.
Venerable old man,
Thou has not utterly perished!
Thy soul, we trust, now dwells in heaven;
There to speak the language of angels:
There, throughout the endless ages of eternity,
To gratify to its wish that thirst for knowledge
Which could not be satiated on earth.

A favourite amusement of Dr Doig was the composition of small poetical pieces, both in Latin and English, of which those of an epigrammatic turn were peculiarly excellent. From among those fugitive pieces, the magistrates of Stirling selected elegiac stanzas, which he had composed on the subject of his own life and studies, and engraved them upon a marble monument, erected to his memory, at the expense of the community of Stirling.

* Dr Doig, in company with Mr Ramsay, visited Oxford and Cambridge, in 1791, and some years after, they spent a few weeks together at Peterhead.

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