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Significant Scots
Thomas Ruddiman

RUDDIMAN, THOMAS, a celebrated philologist and Latin grammarian, was born in the month of October, 1674, in the parish of Boyndie, county of Banff. His father, James Ruddiman, was a respectable farmer, and was at the period of his son’s birth tenant of the farm of Raggel, in Banffshire. He was esteemed by his neighbours as a man profoundly skilled in agricularutal matter, and was besides greatly repected for the benevolence of his dispositions. He was strongly attached to monarchy, an attachment which he evinced in a remarkable manner by bursting into tears on first hearing of the death of Charles II. This ebullition of loyal feeling made a strong impression on his son, who witnessed it, and although he was then only in the tenth year of his age, it is thought to have influenced the opinions of his after life on similar subjects. Young Ruddiman commenced his initiatory course of learning at the parish grammar school of Boyndie, which was then taught by a Mr George Morrison, of whose attention and skill in his profession his pupil ever after retained a grateful and respectful recollection. In this seminary the subject of this memoir rapidly outstripped his fellows in classical learning. The Metamorphoses of Ovid early struck his fancy, and had the effect of inducing such a degree of application to the acquisition of the language in which they are written, as carried him far in advance of all the other scholars in the school. His master, perceiving his ardour, allowed him to press on, abandoning all idea of restraining so forward a spirit to the slow march of those associated with him in the study of classical learning.

The consequence of this assiduity and enthusiastic devotion to Roman literature, was an early and singular proficiency in its language. Of this young Ruddiman himself felt so conscious, that when only sixteen years of age he left his father’s house without giving any previous intimation of his departure, or of its object, to any of the family excepting one sister, and proceeded to Aberdeen to compete for the annual prize given at King’s college of that city for proficiency in classical learning. Previously to his setting out, his sister, to whom he had confided his secret, slipped a guinea into his pocket; but of this, and of nearly all his apparel he was robbed by the way; having been met, and assailed at a place called Starbrigs, by a band of gypsies who first plundered and then stripped him. This mishap, however, did not deter the young enthusiast from proceeding on his mission. He reached Aberdeen, though in a miserable plight, competed for the prize, and carried it off. Having obtained a bursary in the college by this success, he now took up his residence in Aberdeen, and commenced his academical studies in November 1690, under professor William Black. His father, in the mean time, having heard whither his son had gone, and for what purpose, hastened after him, and had the satisfaction, on meeting with him, to find him surrounded with friends, whom his youth and singular acquirements had already procured for him.

At the college of Aberdeen Mr Ruddiman pursued his studies with an ardour and devotion which daily increased, and which at the end of four years procured him the degree of master of arts. This honour, of which the young scholar was extremely proud, was conferred on him on the 21st June, 1694. Amongst Mr Ruddiman’s fellow students at this period was the well-known lord Lovat, whose earthly career was terminated on Tower Hill by the axe of the executioner, at the distance of more than half a century afterwards. Of this nobleman, the biographer of Ruddiman remarks, that, when at college, "he was at the head of every mischief."

On completing his academical course, Mr Ruddiman was engaged by Mr Robert Young of Auldbar, in the county of Forfar, to assist the studies of his son. He was still under twenty years of age, but his acquirements in classical literature were far in advance of this period of life, as compared with the ordinary progress of proficiency in others. While advancing the knowledge of his pupil, Mr Ruddiman did not permit his own to remain stationary. He continued to study assiduously, and every day added to his acquirements in classic lore.

During his residence at Auldbar, Mr Ruddiman heard of the death of the incumbent schoolmaster of Lawrencekirk, in Kincardineshire, and thinking this a favourable opportunity for advancing his fortunes, applied for, and obtained the situation, partly through the interest of Mr Young, and partly through the influence of his own reputation for extraordinary learning. In this situation, a sufficiently obscure one, he remained, still applying himself with unabated zeal to the study of the classics, till the year 1699, when a rather singular occurrence opened up a wider field to his ambition and his merits.

The celebrated Dr Pitcairne of Edinburgh, happening to be detained for a day in the village of Lawrencekirk, by the inclemency of the weather, asked the hostess of the inn where he put up, whether she could not find him some intelligent person who would partake of his dinner, and help, by his conversation, to divert the tedium of the evening. His landlady immediately suggested the schoolmaster, Mr Ruddiman. He was accordingly sent for, and in the course of the conversation which followed made so favourable an impression on the Doctor, by the extent of his acquirements, and the judiciousness of his remarks, that the latter, before they parted, invited him to come to Edinburgh, and promised him his patronage.

Mr Ruddiman gratefully closed with the proposal, and repaired to the metropolis in the beginning of the year 1700. On his arrival, his patron procured him employment in the Advocates’ library as a sort of assistant librarian, though for upwards of a year he had no regular or formal engagement in that capacity. During this interval he employed himself in arranging books, copying papers, and making extracts from interesting works. In 1701, Mr Ruddiman married Barbara Scollay, the daughter of a gentleman of small estate in Orkney, and in the year following, he was formally admitted, on the 2nd of May, assistant librarian, with a salary of 8, 6s. 8d. sterling per annum. His diligence, learning, and steadiness of character, had already attracted the notice, and called forth the approbation of his employers, who, as a token of their sense of these merits, presented him with an extra allowance of fifty pounds Scots, at the end of the year succeeding that of his appointment. Mr Ruddiman now set himself seriously and earnestly to the task of improving his circumstances by literary industry and diligence, and the situation he was in eminently favoured such a design. He copied chronicles and chartularies for the Glasgow university, which gave him constant and regular employment in this way. He formed connexions with booksellers, and revised, corrected, and added to the works which they were publishing, particularly those of a learned character, and to all this he added the expedient of keeping boarders, whom he also instructed in classical learning. The first work to which he is known to have lent his assistance was Sir Robert Sibbald’s "lntroductio ad Historiam rerum a Romanis gestarum in ea Boreali Britanniae parte quae ultra Murum Picticum est." He was next employed to revise "The Practiques of the Laws of Scotland," by Sir Robert Spottiswood, for which he received 5 sterling. Mr Ruddiman’s active mind, and laudable desire of independence, suggested to him still another means of increasing his emoluments. This was to commence book auctioneer, a calling for which his habits and pursuits peculiarly qualified him, and he accordingly added it, in the year 1707, to his other avocations, but confined himself, in the exercise of it, principally to learned works and school books.

In the same year in which he commenced auctioneer, he published an edition of Wilson’s "Animi Tranquillitate Dialogus." To this work he added a new preface, and subjoined a sketch of the life of Wilson, besides correcting the numerous typographical errors of Gryphius of Leyden, by whom it was first published in 1543. His extraordinary and unwearying diligence enabled Mr Ruddiman to present the world in 1709, with a new edition, with notes, of another learned work. This was "Johnstoni Cantici Solomonis Paraphrasis Poetica," which he dedicated, in a copy of verses, to his patron Dr Pitcairne, a compliment which the latter acknowledged by presenting the learned editor with a silver cup, inscribed with the following couplet from Horace:

Narratur et prisci Catonis,
Saepe mero incaluisse virtus.

Mr Ruddiman, however, was not permitted long to rejoice in the possession of this elegant testimony of his patron’s esteem for him. His house was shortly after broken into by robbers, and the silver cup, with many other articles carried off.

The reputation which the learned and acute grammarian had acquired by the new editions of the works just named, was still farther increased by that in which he next engaged. This was an edition of Virgil’s AEneid, as translated into Scottish verse by the celebrated Gawin Douglas. To this work, which was published by Freebairn of Edinburgh, besides superintending and correcting the press, he contributed a Glossary, explaining difficult and obsolete words; a performance which bespeaks great depth of research, soundness of judgment, and singular acuteness of perception. Mr Ruddiman’s modesty, (for he was as modest as learned,) prevented him from associating with the Glossary any kind of notice which should point out to the public that he was the author of it but after some time this fact transpired, and compliments poured in upon him from the most eminent and learned men of the day.

A vacancy happening to occur about this period in the grammar school of Dundee, Mr Ruddiman, whose fame as a scholar was now rapidly spreading abroad, was invited to become rector of that seminary; but an advance of salary having been tendered him by the faculty of advocates to induce him to remain, he accepted it, and declined the offer of the magistrates of Dundee, although he thereby sacrificed his pecuniary interests to a considerable amount, for the additional salary which was conferred upon him was still short of the amount of emolument which the rectorship of the Dundee grammar school would have produced to him.

Still pursuing his literary labours with unremitting industry, he, in 1711, assisted in preparing a new edition of the works of Drummond of Hawthornden, printed by Watson of Edinburgh, and immediately after lent his aid to Abercromby, to publish his "Martial Achievements of the Scots Nation." Mr Ruddiman next devoted himself to philological pursuits; and in 1713, published a new edition of the Latin Vocabulary of John Forrest, with improvements. In the year following, he published that work which filled up the measure of his fame. This was his "Rudiments of the Latin Tongue;" a work which he lived to see go through no less than fifteen editions. It is almost unnecessary to add, that it immediately supplanted all those of a similar kind which had been previously in use, every one of which was singularly defective; and that it has remained in extensive use throughout the grammar schools of Scotland ever since.

Shortly after this, Mr Ruddiman was employed by Freebairn to edit "Buchanani Opera Omnia," now collected for the first time. To this work, which was published in 1715, in two vols. folio, he contributed large annotations, in which he treated freely both the character and political principles of the author; a procedure which raised him a host of enemies, and involved him in a litigated and annoying controversy. This hostility assumed in one instance the formidable shape of a "Society of the Scholars of Edinburgh, to vindicate that incomparably learned and pious Author (Buchanan) from the Calumnie of Mr Thomas Ruddiman." This association, however, though it included no less than four professors of the university, never made any progress in their proposed "Vindication," and finally dissolved, without accomplishing any thing, although they frequently and confidently promised the world a new edition of Buchanan, with a confutation of Ruddiman.

In 1715, Mr Ruddiman added to his other avocations that of printer, admitting a younger brother of his own, who had been bred to the business, as a partner of the concern. The first production of his press, was the second volume of Abercromby’s Martial Achievements. Amongst the learned works of note, which he printed subsequently, were, the first volume of "Epistolae Regum Scotorum," 1722, for which he wrote a preface; "Ovidii Excerpta ex Metamorphoseon Libris," containing English Notes, by Willymot and himself, 1723; Herodian, 1724; Pars Prima of his own Grammaticae Latinae Institutiones, 1725, which brought him a great accession of fame and profit; and Pars Secunda of the same work. He also printed, in 1733, "A Dissertation upon the Way of Teaching the Latin Tongue."

In 1718, Mr Ruddiman took an active part in forming a literary society—the first, it is believed, which was established in Edinburgh. It was originally composed of the masters of the high school, but was soon joined by many of the most eminent persons in the city; amongst these was Mr Henry Home, afterwards lord Kames. Of the proceedings of this society, however, nothing is known, as its records, if there ever were any, have all disappeared.

It had long been an object of Mr Ruddiman’s ambition, after he became a printer, to obtain the appointment of printer to the university, and he was at length gratified with the office. In 1728, he was nominated, conjunctly with James Davidson, printer to the college, during the lives of both, (so their patent ran,) and during the life of the longest liver. Previously to this, viz., in 1724, Mr Ruddiman began to print the continuation of the Caledonian Mercury for Rolland, who was then its proprietor; but in 1729, he acquired the whole interest in that paper, which was transferred to him in March of the year just named, and continued in his family till 1772, when it was sold by the trustees of his grandchildren.

Notwithstanding the variety and importance of his numerous avocations, Mr Ruddiman still retained the appointment of assistant-librarian in the Advocates’ library, and never allowed any of these avocations to interfere, in the smallest degree, with the faithful and diligent discharge of the duties of that office. He was still, however, up to the year 1730, but assistant-librarian, the situation of principal keeper being in the possession of Mr John Spottiswood; but in the year named, his long and faithful services in the library were rewarded by the chief appointment, on the death of Mr Spottiswood. In Mr Ruddiman’s case, however, this promotion was entirely honorary, for it was unaccompanied by any additional salary.

Mr Ruddiman’s reputation as a Latinist now stood so high, that he was employed to translate public papers. Amongst these, he translated the charter of the Royal Bank from English into Latin, before the seals were affixed to it; and also the city of Edinburgh’s "Charter of Admiralty." His wealth, in the mean time, was improving apace. All his undertakings succeeded with him, and his diligence and economy turned them to the best account. He was in the habit of making periodical estimates of his riches, which he entered in his memorandum books. These show a gradual increase in his wealth, and discover that it had amounted in 1736 to 1985 6s. 3d.

Amongst the last of his literary labours, was an elaborate preface, or rather introduction, to Anderson’s "Selectus Diplomatum et Numismatum Scotiae Thesaurus;" an able and learned disquisition on various subjects of antiquity. Being now in the sixty-fifth year of his age, he ceased, for a time, after the completion of the work just spoken of from every kind of literary employment; and, nearly at the same period, resigned his half of the printing concern to his son, allowing, however, his name to remain in the firm, in order to continue its credit.

During the summer of 1745, Mr Ruddiman, to avoid the dangers of the rebellion, retired to the country, where he resided for several months, amusing himself by literary pursuits. He afterwards prepared a Pars Tertia to his Grammaticae Latinae, &c., but did not adventure on its publication, as he feared the sale would not pay the expense. He subsequently, however, published an abstract of this work, subjoined to what is called his Shorter Grammar, of which he received, in 1756, the royal privilege of being exclusive printer. In 1751, the venerable grammarian’s sight began to fail him, and, under this affliction, finding that he could no longer conscientiously retain the appointment of keeper of the Advocates’ library, he resigned it early in the year 1752, after a faithful discharge of the duties of librarian in that institution of nearly half a century. The latter years of Mr Ruddiman’s life were imbittered by a political controversy, into which he was dragged by the vanity and pertinacity of Mr George Logan, who persecuted him with unrelenting virulence in no less than six different treatises, which he wrote against the political principles avowed in Mr Ruddiman’s Annotations on Buchanan, particularly that which asserted the hereditary rights of the Scottish kings. Mr Ruddiman died at Edinburgh on the 19th of January, 1757, in the eighty-third year of his age; and his remains were interred in the Greyfriars’ church-yard of that city. A handsome tablet to the memory of Ruddiman, was erected in 1806, in the New Greyfriars’ church, at the expense of his relative, Dr William Ruddiman, late of India. It exhibits the following inscription:--





Born, October, 1674, within three miles of the town of Banff;
Died at Edinburgh, 19th January, 1757,
In his eighty-third year.

Post obitum, benefacta manent, aeternaque virtus,
Non metuit Stygiis ne rapiatur aquis.

The Life of Thomas Ruddiman, A.M.
The Keeper for almost fifty years of the Library belonging to the Faculty of Advocates at Edinburgh to which is subjoined new anecdotes of Buchanan by George Chalmers (1794) (pdf)

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