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Significant Scots
Murray Elliot

ELLIOT MURRAY KYNNYNMOND, GILBERT, first earl of Minto, a distinguished statesman, was born at Edinburgh, April 23, 1751. He was the eldest son of Gilbert Elliot, Esq., advocate, younger of Minto, by Mrs Agnes Murray Kynnynmond, of Melgund and Kynnynmond.

The earl of Minto was descended from a race of very eminent persons. His father, who became Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, baronet, was conspicuous as a parliamentary orator, and, in 1763, held the office of treasurer of the navy. He subsequently obtained the reversion of the office of keeper of the signet in Scotland. In the literary annals of his country, he is the well-known author of several excellent poetical compositions, particularly the popular song, "My sheep I neglected." He also carried on a philosophical correspondence with David Hume, which is quoted with marks of approbation by Mr Dugald Stewart, in his Philosophy of the Human Mind, and in his Dissertation prefixed to the seventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Sir Gilbert was the eldest son of Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, lord justice clerk, a respectable judge and most accomplished man, especially in music. Lord Minto, as he was called, is said to have been the first to introduce the German flute into Scotland, about the year 1725. In the history of Scotland, during the early part of the eighteenth century, he is distinguished by his zealous and useful exertions as a friend of the protestant succession, and also by his patriotic enthusiasm in every measure that tended to the improvement and advantage of his country.

The father of lord Minto was Gilbert Elliot, popularly called "Gibbie Elliot," at first a writer in Edinburgh, and in that capacity employed by the celebrated Mr Veitch to rescue him from the tyrannical government of Charles II. in Scotland; a duty in which he succeeded, though it led to his own denouncement by the Scottish privy council. Gilbert Elliot contrived to make his escape to Holland, but, nevertheless, was tried in his absence for high treason to king James VII., for which he was condemned and forfeited. After the revolution, he returned to his native country; and being recommended, both by his sufferings and his sagacity and expertness in business, was made clerk of the privy council. He subsequently entered at the Scottish bar, and rose to the rank of a civil and criminal judge. It is related, that when he came to Dumfries in the course of the justiciary circuit, he never failed to visit his old friend Veitch, who was there settled minister; and the following dialogue used to pass between them: "Ah, Willie, Willie," lord Minto would say, "if it had not been for me, you would have been writing papers yet, at a plack a page."

To return to the earl of Minto—his first education was of a private nature; and, as his father had prospects of advancement for him in England, he was subsequently placed at a school in that country. In 1768, he entered as a gentleman commoner at Christ church, Oxford: whence he was transferred to Lincoln’s Inn, and in due time was called to the English bar. His health becoming delicate, he soon after commenced a tour of the continent, with the view of acquiring a knowledge of the general state of European life and policy. While at Paris, he frequented the society of Madame du Deffand, by whom he is justly praised in her correaponnence. She calls him "ce petit Elliot," either in endearment, or in allusion to his youth and delicate person. In 1777, Mr Elliot married Miss Amyand, daughter of Sir George Amyand, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. Soon after this period, his father died, leaving him in possession of the baronetcy.

In 1774, Mr Elliot was elected member of parliament for Morpeth; and, though he never became a very frequent speaker, he gave proofs, on many occasions, of his talents both as a debater and a man of business. In the deliberations of parliament on the American contest, he warmly espoused the cause of ministers, until nearly the close of the war, when he joined the ranks of the opposition. Having attached himself to Mr Fox, he gave his support to the coalition ministry, and after the dismission of that party, adhered to it throughout its misfortunes and disgrace. In the endeavours of the party of the coalition to humble that of the new aristocracy, which seemed to have arisen in what was called the India interest; in their attempts to win the people back to their side, by swerving, to a certain length, into democratical whiggism; in their hopes to strengthen themselves on the authority of the heir apparent to the crown; in their opposition to a war on behalf of Turkey, with the power of Russia and its allies; in their efforts to maintain what was really the constitutional right of the prince of Wales to the regency; and in all their other political measures, whether to serve their country, or to restore themselves to official power, Sir Gilbert Elliot bore no undistinguished part.

The estimation in which he was held by his party, is proved by the circumstance of his having been twice proposed as speaker; on one of which occasions be very nearly carried his election against the government. At the breaking out of the French revolution, he, like many others of his party, warmly adopted the views of the tories, and became a warm supporter of ministers. In 1793, the town of Toulon, and other parts of the south of France, had declared for Louis XVII., and seemed likely to become of great service to the British arms in operating against the new republic. Sir Gilbert Elliot was then associated in a commission with lord Hood and general O’Hara, respectively commanders of the naval and military force, to meet with the French royalists, and afford them all possible protection. On the re-capture of Toulon by the republicans, December 18, 1793, he procured for such of the Toulonese as escaped, a refuge in the island of Elba. The Corsicans having now also resolved to declare against the republic, Sir Gilbert was nominated to take them under the protection of Great Britain. Early in 1794, all the fortified places of the island were put into his hands; and the king having accepted the proffered sovereignty of the island, Sir Gilbert presided as viceroy in a general assembly of the Corsicans, June 19, 1794, when a code of laws was adopted for the political arrangement of society in the island, being in substance somewhat similar to the constitution of Great Britain. In a speech of great wisdom, dignity, and conciliation, Sir Gilbert recommended to the Corsicans to live quietly under this constitution, and to value aright the advantages they had gained by putting themselves under the protection of the same sovereign who was the executor of the laws, and the guardian of the liberties of Great Britain. Whatever could be done by prudence, moderation, energy, and vigilance, was done by Sir Gilbert in the government of this island; but, notwithstanding all his efforts, the French ultimately gained the ascendancy, and in October, 1796, the island was deserted by the British. George III. acknowledged his sense of Sir Gilbert’s services by raising him to the peerage, under the title of lord or baron of Minto, in the shire of Roxburgh, with a special permission to adopt the arms of Corsica into the armorial bearings of his family.

Lord Minto’s speech in the house of lords in support of the union with Ireland, a measure which met his sincere support, was one of considerable effect and much admired even by those with whom he differed on that occasion. Early in 1799, his lordship was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to the court of Vienna, where he resided, and ably executed the duties of his very important office, till the end of the year 1801. On the accession of the whig administration in 1806, he filled, for a short time, the office of president of the board of controul; but having soon after been appointed to the situation of governor-general of India, he embarked for that distant region in February, 1807. As the company, board of controul, and ministers had differed about the filling of this office (vacant by the death of Marquis Cornwallis), the appointment of lord Minto must be considered as a testimony of the general confidence in his abilities and integrity, more especially as he was at the time quite ignorant of Indian affairs. The result fully justified all that had been anticipated. Under the care of lord Minto, the debts of the company rapidly diminished, the animosities of the native princes were subdued, and the jealousy of the government was diminished. In quelling the mutiny of the coast army, he evinced much prudence, temper, and firmness; but his administration was rendered more conspicuously brilliant by his well-concerted and triumphant expeditions against the isles of France and Bourbon in 1810, and that of Java in 1811. Although these enterprises were in conformity to the general instructions, yet the British ministers candidly allowed, in honour of lord Minto, that to him was due the whole merit of the plan, and also its successful termination. He himself accompanied the expedition against Java: and it is well known that his presence not only contributed materially to its early surrender, but also to the maintenance of harmony in all departments of the expedition, and tended materially to conciliate the inhabitants after the surrender. For these eminent services, lord Minto received the thanks of both houses of parliament; and in February, 1813, as a proof of his majesty’s continued approbation, he was promoted to an earldom, with the additional title of viscount Melgund. His lordship returned to England in 1814, in apparent health; but after a short residence in London, alarming symptoms of decline began to show themselves, and he died June 21st, at Stevenage, on his way to Scotland. Lord Minto’s general abilities are best seen in his acts. His manners were mild and pleasant, his conversation naturally playful—but he could make it serious and instructive. He displayed, both in speaking and writing, great purity of language, and an uncommon degree of perspicuity in his mode of expression and narration. He was an elegant scholar, a good linguist, and well versed both in ancient and modern history. With all these qualifications, he possessed one which gives a charm to all others—modesty. In short, it is rare that a person appears with such a perfect balance of good qualities as the earl of Minto.

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