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THE

FREEMASONS' MAGAZINE,

OR

GENERAL AND COMPLETE LIBRARY.

FOR MARCH 1795.

MEMOIRS

OF THE LATE

WILLIAM STRAHAN, ESQ *.

WITH A PORTRAIT.

THE advantages and use of Biography have of late been so often

less for any modern author to set them forth. That department of writing, however, has been of late years so much cultivated, that it has fared with biography as with every other art; it has lost much of its dignity in its commonness, and many lives have been presented to the public, from which little instruction or amusement could be drawn. Individuals have been traced in minute and ordinary actions, from which no consequences could arise, but to the private circle of their own families and friends, and in the detail of which we saw no passion excited, no character developed, nothing that should distinguish them from those common occurrences,

" Which dully took their course, and were forgotten.” Yet there are few even of those comparatively insignificant lives, in which men of a serious and thinking cast do not feel a certain degree of interest. A pensive mind can trace, in seemingly trivial incidents and common situations, something to feed reflection, and to foster thought; as the solitary naturalist culls the trodden weeds, and discovers in their form and texture the principles of vegetative nature. The motive, too, of the relater, often helps out the unim. portance of his relation; and to the ingenuous and susceptible, there is a feeling not unpleasant in allowing for the partiality of gratitude, and the tediousness of him who recounts his obligations. The virtuous connections of life and of the heart it is always pleasing to trave, even though the objects are neither new nor striking. Like those familiar paintings that shew the inside of cottages, and the exercise of village duties, such narrations come home to the bosoms of the worthy, who feel the relationship of Virtue, and acknowledge her family wherever it is found. And perhaps there is a calmer and more placid delight in viewing her amidst these unimportant offices, than when we look up to her invested in the pomp of greatness, and the pride of power.

* See p. 5. of this Voluine.

Mr. WillIAM STRAHAN was born at Edinburgh in the year 1715. His father, who had a small appointment in the customs, gave his son the education which every lad of decent rank then received in a country where the avenues to learning were easy, and open to men of the most moderate circumstances. After having passed through the tuition of a grammar-school, he was put apprentice to a printer; and when a very young man, semoved to a wider sphere in that line of business, and went to follow his trade in London. Sober, diligent, and attentive, while his emoluments were for some time very scanty, he contrived to live rather within than beyond his income; and though he married early, and without such a provision as prudence night have looked for in the establishment of a family, he continued to thrive, and to better his circumstances. This he would often mention as an encouragement to early matrimony, and used to say, that he never had a child born that Providence did not send some increase of income to provide for the increase of his household. With sufficient vigour of mind, he had that happy flow of animal spirits, that is not easily discouraged by unpromising appearances. By him who can look with firmness upon difficulties, their conquest is already half atchieved; but the man on whose heart and spirits they lie heavy, will scarcely. be able to bear up against their pressure. The forecast of timid, or the disgust of too delicate minds, are very unfortunate attendants for men of business, who, to be successful, must often push improbaþilities, and bear with mortifications.

His abilities in his profession, accompanied with perfect integrity and unabating diligence, enabled him, after the first difficulties were overcome, to get on with rapid success; and he was one of the most flourishing men in the trade, when, in the year 1770, be purchased a share of the patent for King's Printer of Mr. Eyre, with whom he maintained the most cordial intimacy during all the rest of his life. Besides the emoluments arising from this appointment, as well as from a very extensive private business, he now drew largely from ą field which required some degree of speculative sagacity to cultivate ; we mean that great literary property which he acquired by purchasing the copy-rights of some of the most celebrated authors of the time. In this his liberality kept equal pace with his prudence, and in some cases went perhaps rather beyond it. Never had such rewards been given to the labours of literary men, as now were received from him and his associates in those purchases of copy-rights from authors *.

Having now attained the first great object of business, wealth, Mr. Strahan looked with a very allowable ambition on the stations of political rank and eminence. Politics had long occupied his active mind, which he had for many years pursued as his favourite amusement, by corresponding on that subject with some of the first characters of the age. Mr. Strahan's queries to Dr. Franklin in the year 1769, respecting the discontents of the Americans, published in the London Chronicle of 28th July 1778, shew the just conception he entertained of the important consequences of that dispute, and his anxiety as a good subject to investigate, at that early period, the proper means by which their grievances might be removed, and a permanent harmony restored between the two countries. In the year 1775, he was elected a member of parliament for the borough of Malmsbury, in Wiltshire, with a very illustrious colleague, the Hon. C. J. Fox; and in the succeeding parliament for Wotton-Basset, in the same county. In this station, applying himself with that industry which was natural to him, he attended the House with a scrupulous punctuality, and was a useful member. His talents for business acquired the consideration to which they were entitled, and were not unnoticed by the minister.

In his political connections he was constant to the friends to whom he had first been attached. He was a steady supporter of that party who went out of administration in the spring of 1784, and lost his seat in the House of Commons by the dissolution of parliament with which that change was followed; a situation which he did not show any desire to resume on the return of the new parliament.

One motive for his not wishing a seat in the subsequent parliament, was a feeling of some decline in his health, which had rather suffered from the long sittings and late hours with which the political warfare in the last had been attended. Though without any fixed disease, his strength was visibly declining; and though his spirits survived his strength, yet the vigour and activity of his mind were also considerably impaired. Both continued gradually to decline till his death, which happened on Saturday the gth July 1785, in the 71st year of his age.

Of riches acquired by industry, the disposal is often ruled by caprice, as if the owners wished to shéw their uncontrolled power over that wealth which their own exertions had attained, by a whim

* A well-written account of Mr. Strahan's connections with Mr. Hume, Dr. Robertson, Mr. Gibbon, and other of our most celebrated writers, would form a very interesting portion of literary history and anecdote. We confess ourselves not in possession of the materials necessary for such a detail; but are not without hopes t at the public may at some future time be gratified on this head. To the friendly assistance of Mr. S.'s pen, we know David Hume's History of England, in particular, to have been in some degree indebted for its welldeserved reputation. Edit,

sical allotment of it after their death. In this, as in other particulars, Mr. Strahan's discretion and good sense were apparent. After providing munificently for his widow and children, his principal study seems to have been to mitigate the affliction of those (and many there were) who would more immediately have felt his loss, by bequeathing them liberal annuities for their lives : and (recollecting that all of a profession are not equally provident) he left 10ool. to the Company of Stationers, the interest to be divided in annuities of 51. each amongst infirm old printers; of whom one half are to be natives of England or Wales, and the other half of North Britain.

Endued with much natural sagacity, and an attentive observation of life, Mr. Strahan owed his rise to that station of opulence and respect which he attained, rather to his own talents and exertion, than to any accidental occurrence of favourable or fortunate circumstances. His mind, though not deeply tinctured with learning, was not uninformed by letters. From a habit of attention to style, he had acquired a considerable portion of critical acuteness in the discernment of its beauties and defects. In one branch of writing he particularly excelled; this was the epistolary, in which he not only shewed the precision and clearness of business, but possessed a neatness as well as fluency of expression which few letter-writers have been known to surpass * Letter-writing was one of his favourite amuses

*

Mr. Strahan, who was remarkable for his knowledge of mankind, and for his nice discrimination of human characters, and who, from habits of intimar was well acquainted with the powers of the late Dr. Johnson, was so strongly impressed with the idea of his ability to make a great figure in the House f Commons, that he addressed the following letter on the subject, to one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, with a view, no doubt, of rendering a signal service to government, and to his learned friend, had the letter produced the effect at which the worthy and very sensible writer aimed:

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You will easily recollect, when I had the honour of waiting on you, son time ago, I took the liberty of observing to you, that Dr. Johnson would make an excellent figure in the House of Commons, and heartily wished he had a seat there. My reasons are briefly these :

" I know his perfect good affection to his Majesty, and his government, which I am certain he wishes to support by every means in his power.

“ He possesses a great share of manly, nervous, and ready eloquence; is quick in discerning the strength and weakness of argument; can express him. self with clearness and precision; and fears the face of no man alive.

" His known character, as a man of extraordinary sense, and unimpeached virtue, would secure him the attention of the House, and could not fail to give him a proper weight there.

“ He is capable of the greatest application, and can undergo any degree of labour, where he sees it necessary, and where his heart and affections are strongly engaged. His Majesty's ministers might therefore securely depend on his doing, on every proper occasion, the utmost that could be expected from him. They would find him ready to vindicatę such measures as tended to promote the stability of government, and resolute and steady in carrying them into execution. Nor is any thing to be apprehended from the supposed impetuosity of his temper. To the friends of the King you will find him a lamb; to his enemies, a lion,

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