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Though we have thus discharged our conscience, by saying all the ill we think of this publication, we do not despair of being able to interest our readers by a pretty full account of its contents. The life and opinions of Dr Beattie, though they cannot vivify two vast quartos, may still serve to animate a few of our humbler octavos, and are really worth all the time we shall require our readers to bestow upon them. We shall endeavour, therefore, to make a short abstract of the biography, and then to give some specimens of the letters which fill these volumes; subjoining, if we can find room, a few observations on the general merits and character of Dr Beattie's productions.
This eminent scholar was born in Kincardineshire in 1735. His father kept a small shop in the village of Laurencekirk, and rented a small farm in the neighbourhood. He was the youngest of six children.; and, after acquiring some Latin at the parish school, was sent to the university of Aberdeen in 1749. Here his expenses were in part defrayed by a bursary or exhibition, to which he was preferred upon public trial by the masters, and remained four years studying philosophy and divinity, with a view to the Scottish church. When his course of study was finished, however, no appointment of this kind was in prospect for him; and he was glad to accept of the office of schoolmaster and parish clerk in the parish of Fordoun in 1753, where he continued for four solitary years, extremely poor, and utterly unheard of in the world, though he had begun to write verses, and had been personally introduced to two of our Scotish Judges, who resided occasionally in his neighbourhood. In 1758, he was appointed one of the ushers to the grammar school of Aberdeen, and began to obtain some distinction among the men of letters who composed that university. In 1760, he was appointed professor of philosophy, and continued to discharge the duties of that situation till within a short time of his death. Aberdeen had at this time to boast of Dr Campbell, Dr Reid, Dr Gerard, and Dr Gregory, among its professors; and the benefits which their new associate must have derived from their society, were rendered still more invaluable, by the harmony in which they all lived with each other, and the openness and familiarity with which they communicated their sentiments. In a kind of literary chib, which met twice a month, they discussed freely all the topics of literature and philosophy that occurred to any of them; and it was in this society that all those speculations took their rise, which have since made their names so familiar to all who read for instruction. In 1760, he published a small collection of poems, the greater part of which were left out of the subsequent editions; and, in 1763, made his first visit to London, where
he he does not seem to have had any acquaintance, except with his bookseller, and some nameless Caledonians from his own district. In• 1765, he formed an acquaintance with the poet Gray, who was at that time on a visit to the Earl of Strathmore, and became his dear friend and admirer for the short period of his after life. In 1767, he married, and appears to have begun his Minstrel, and his Essay on Truth. On the subject of the latter, there is an immense deal of epistolary dissertation between Dr Beattie and his literary friends; and certainly there never was a work on which so much preparation and getting up were expended. It made its appearance in 1770; and as it had been diligently extolled and anticipated by all the orthodox enemies of scepticism, it speedily acquired a greater reputation than any metaphysical work had attained, since the days at least of Bishop Berkeley, It took amazingly with the bishops and masters of academies throughout England; and prepared for the author a most gracious reception among all who had conceived a dread and detestation of the Scottish philosophy. In 1771, he published the first canto of the Minstrel, which rose also into a rapid and less unaccountable popularity. There is something ingenious, we think, though rather scholastic, in his own remarks upon this poem, which we extract from a letter to Lady Forbes in 1772.
'Again, your Ladyfliip muft have obferved, that fome fentiments are common to all men; others peculiar to perfons of a certain character. Of the former fort, are thofe which Gray has fo elegantly exprefled in his • Church-yard Elegy ;' a poem which is univerfally underftood and admired, not only for its poetical beauties, but alfo, and perhaps chiefly, for its expreffing fentiments in which every man thinks himfelf interested, and which, at certain times, are familiar to all men. 'Now the fentiments exprefled in the " Minftrel, " being not common to all men, but peculiar to perfons of a certain caft, cannot poffibly be interefting, becaufe the generality of readers will not underftand, nor feel them fo thoroughly, as to think them natural. That a boy mould take pleafure in darknefs or a ftorm—in the noife of thunder, or the glare of lightning; fliould be more gratified with liftening to mulic at a diftance, than with mixing in the merriment occafioned by it; mould like better to fee every bird and beaft happy and free, than to exert his ingenuity in deftroying or enfnaring them—thefe, and fuch like fentiments, which, I think, would be natural to perfons of a certain caft, will, I know, be condemned as unnatural by others, who have never felt them in themfelves, nor obferved them in the generality of mankind. Of all this I was. fufficiently aware before I publifhed the " Minftrel," and, therefore, never expefted that it would be a popular poem.' I. 205. 206.
What follows, however, as it partakes of anecdote, will probably be more interesting to most readers.
'I find you are willing to fuppofe, that, in Edwin, I have given
only only a picture of myfelf, as I was in my younger days. I confefs the fuppofition is not groundlefs. I have made him take pleafure in the fcenes in which 1 took pleafure, and entertain fentiments fimilar to thofe, of which, even in my early youth, I had repeated experience. The fcenery of a mountainous country, the ocean, the Iky, thoughtfulnefs and retirement, and fometimes melancholy objects and ideas, had charms in my eyes, even when I was a fchool-boy; and at a time when I was fo far from being able to exprefs, that I did not underftand my own feelings, or perceive the tendency of fuch purfuits and amufements: and as to poetry and mufic, before I was ten years old, I could play a little on the violin, and was as much mafter of Homer and Virgil, as Pope's and Dryden's tranflations could make me.' I. 207.
Dr Beattie, it seems, had bestowed such intense labour in the composition of his Essay, that his health was impaired by the exertion; and he now found it necessary to take a journey to the South, with a view to repair his exhausted spirits. He paid a second visit to London, accordingly, in summer 1771; and. having been introduced by his friend Dr Gregory to the particular notice of Mrs Montagu, immediately made his way to all the distinguished literary society which the metropolis could then afford. As he was sufficiently learned, and free from most of the prejudices for which Scotchmen are usually disliked by the scholars of the South, he proved very generally acceptable in the circles to which he was introduced; and was received into distinguished favour by all the pious churchmen and orthodox nobility, who had been taught to shudder at infidels and sceptics. These honourable connexions he took cai;e to retain, by an assiduous and complimentary correspondence; and having reason to think, that, through their interest, some considerable addition might be obtained to his fortune, he returned again to London in 1773, with a view to solicit a pension, or some sinecure place under government. Here he lived fine with bishops and dutchesses for several months; had his picture painted in allegorical triumph by Sir Joshua Reynolds; was admitted an honorary Doctor of Laws at Oxford; and obtained the. King's warrant for a pension of 200l. a year. He had also the honour of a private interview with their Majesties, of which he has left a long and most minute account in his Diary. As few are permitted to look so near upon royalty, it may be amusing to some of our readers to see a part of this record.
* At twelve, the Doftor and I went to the King's houfe, at Kew. We had been only a few minutes in the hall, when the King and Queen came in from an airing, and as they paCTed through the hall, the King called to me by name, and afked how long it was fince I came from town. I anfwered, about an hour. "I fhall fee yon," fays he, " in a little." TheDoftor and I waited a confiderable time, (for the King
was was bufy), and then we were called into a large room, fiimifhed as a library, where the King was walking about, and the Queen fitting in a chair. We were received in the mod gracious manner poffible, by both their Majefties. I had the honour of a converfation with them (nobody elfe being prefent but Dr Majendie) for upwards of an hour, on a great variety of topics, in which both the King and Queen joined, with a degree of cheerfulnefs, affability and eafe, that was to me fur» prifing, and foon diffipated the embarrafTment which I felt at the beginning of the conference. They both complimented me, in the higheft terms, on my " EfTay," which, they faid, was a book they always kept by them; and the King faid he had one copy of it at Kew, and another in town, and immediately went and took it down from a fhelf. I found it was the fecond edition. "I never ftole a book but one," faid his Majefty, " and that was yours (fpeaking to me); I ftole it from the Queen, to give it to Lord Hertford to read." He had heard that the fale of " Hume's Effays" had failed, fince my book was publifhed; and I told him what Mr Strahan had told me, in regard to that matter. He had even heard of my being in Edinburgh, laft fummer, and how Mr Hume was offended on the fcore of my book. He afked many queftions about the fecond part of the " EfTay," and when it would be ready for the prefs. I gave him, in a fhort fpeech, an account of the plan of it; and faid, my health was fo precarious, I could not tell when it might be ready, as I had many books to confult before I could finifh it; but that if my health were good, I thought I might bring it to a conclufion in two or three years. He afked, how long I had been in compofmg my " EfTay?" praifed the caution with which it was written; and faid, he did not wonder that it had employed me five or fix years. He afked about my poems. I faid, there was only one poem of my own, on which I fet any value (meaning the "Minftrel"), and that it was firft publifhed about the fame time with the " EfTay." My other poems, I faid, were incorrect, being but juvenile pieces, and of little confequence, even in my own opinion. We had much converfation on moral fubjects; from which both their Majefties let it appear, that they were warm friends to Chriftianity; and fo little inclined to infidelity, that they could hardly believe that any thinking man could really be an atheift, unlefs he could bring himfelf to believe that he made himfelf; a thought which pleafed the King exceedingly; and he repeated it feveral times to the Queen. He afked, whether any thing had been written again ft me. I fpoke of the late pamphlet, of which I gave an account, telling him, that I never had met with any man who had read it, except one Quaker. This brought on fome difcourfe about the Quakers, whofe moderation, and mild behaviour, the King and Queen commended. I was afked many queftions about the Scots univerfities, the revenues of the Scots clergy, their mode of praying and preaching, the medical college of Edinburgh, Dr Gregory (of whom I gave a particular character), and Dr Cullen, the length of our vacation at Aberdeen, and the clofenefs of our attendance during the winter; the number of ftudents that attend my lectures, my mode of lecturing, whether from notes, or completely written lectures; about Mr Hume, and Dr Robertfon, and Lord Kinnoull, and the Archbilhop of York, &c. &c. &c. His Majefty afked what I thought of my new acquaintance, Lord Dartmouth? I faid, there was fomething in his air and manner, which I thought not only agreeabler but enchanting, and that he feemed to me to be one of the beft of men; a fentiment in which both their Majefties heartily joined. "They fay that Lord Dartmouth is an enthufiafl," faid the King; " but furely he fays nothing on the fubject of religion, but what every Chriflian may, and ought to fay." He afked, whether I did not think the Englifh language on the decline at prefent? I anfwered in the affirmative; and the King agreed, and named the " Spectator " as one of the beft ftandards of the language. When I told him that the Scots clergy fometimes prayed a quarter, or even half an hour, at a time, he afked, whether that did not lead them into repetitions? I faid, it often did. "That," faid he, " I don't like in prayers; and, excellent as our liturgy is, I think it fomewhat faulty in that refpect." I. 268-7i.
While honours and emoluments were thus accumulating around him, it is rather amusing to notice the tone in which the worthy Doctor speaks of the persecutions and sufferings he has to undergo from the malice of his enemies. Some of Mr Hume's admirers had spoken contemptuously of his metaphysics; and others had found fault with the needless acrimony and invective with which he had enlivened his argument. This, we think, is the full extent of the calamities which his Zeal in the good cause had brought upon him; and yet he speaks as if no martyr of old had ever encountered more dreadful injuries; and spirits himself up to endure them, with an air of magnanimity which is really ludicrous.
'I have always forefeen,' fays he, ' and flill forefee, that I fhall have many reproaches, and cavils, and fneers, to encounter; but I am prepared to meet them. I am not afhamed of my caufe,' &c.
And in another place,.—
'What I have avowed, I am flill ready to avow in the face of any man on earth, or any number of men; and I fhall never ceafe to avow, fo long as the Deity is pleafed,' &c.—* As to obloquy, I have had a fhare of it as large as any private man I know; and I think I have borne it, and can bear it, with a degree of fortitude of which I need not be afhamed.'
In the end of the year 1778, there was a proposal for transferring Dr Beattie to the University of Edinburgh, which he declined, chiefly from the dread of his infidel enemies, whose head quarters, he seems to have supposed, were established in that devoted city, and from whose machinations he really seems to have imagined that he would not have been perfectly in safety. There
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