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SKETCH OF THE LIFE
J. BEATTIE, LL.D.
For Edwin Fate a nobler doom had plann'd ;
has been frequently cbserved, that the lives of
Literary men are animated by few incidents, and therefore seldom afford any great scope for biogra phical remark; extraordinary adventure and variety of action is not to be expected in the closet, or in the privacy of study : a simple narrative therefore of their writings and opinions is all that we can hope to find in their history.
James Beattie was a native of Scotland, born on the 5th of November, 1735. The parish of Lawrencekirk, in the county of Kincardine, has the honor of en. rolling his name among those of several other literary characters, which that remote part of the island has produced. The subject of this memoir was deprived of his father at a very tender age; he was then only seven years old. An event of this kind is always accompanied with serious consequences, and where the circumstances of the sufferer are not sufficiently destitute to excite the commiseration of the public, and are left to their own unassisted exertions, it is that such misfortunes are most severely felt; precisely in this situation was the family of Mrs. Beattie, whose hopes, and those of her helpless offspring, were
now fixed upon her eldest son David, who at that time had just seen his eighteenth year. In him they were not disappointed; actuated by those motives which confer a lustre on poverty, by his virtuous exertions, and indefatigable industry, he not only supported his mother in creditable affluence, but gave James a classical education at the parochial school of Lawrencekirk, at that time kept by the celebrated James Milne. Here it was that the natural genius of Dr. Beattie began to shine, and after various consultations it was at length determined that the University should give a last polish to what Milne had so successfully begun.
In the year 1749 the two Brothers left Lawrencekirk on one horse, and directed their course to Aberdeen, a distance of thirty English miles, at a season not the most agreeable for the undertaking, and when good roads were unknown in the North. As Beattie's, or rather his brother's circumstances were not very affluent, he immediately became a candidate for, and obtained the office of Bursar, or Bursery, in the Marischal College ; an idea of which is in some measure conveyed by the expression of being put on the foundation in our Universities ; except, that in Scotland no opprobrious distinction or menial office is attached to it; on the contrary, it is a proof of superior merit, and becomes a premium of a victori. ous contest, the just reward bestowed on the victor after a competition in which classical excellence alone carries away the palm.
“ Non sine pulvere palmæ."
After remaining the regular course of four years at college, Mr. Beattie took his degree of Master of Arts, and returned in April 1753 to Lawrencekirk, anxious for some employment that would increase his finances, without greatly interrupting the progress of his studies ; fortunately about this period the neighbouring parish of Fordoun was deprived of its schoolmaster, and the very high character which
Beattie bore as a scholar and a man of genius, easily procured him the humble appointment. Its emoluments were small, and by no means suited the aspiring views of the young student ; however, in his duty he was indefatigable, his habits of study were regular and constant, little time was spent in idlencss, because he was ambitious to acquit himself with credit, and benefit his scholars as far as was in his power. In this situation Mr. Beattie continued for the space of five years, admired by all who knew him for his learning, his amiable manners and gentleness of character.
At length the magistrates of Aberdeen voluntarily presented him with a vacant ushership in the grammar school of that town, with a promise of succession when the head master, who had already been upwards of half a century in that situation, should think proper to resign. An event however occurred that soon taught him higher hopes, and afforded him superior expectations ; having long cultivated a taste for poetry, he applied himself labout this period with unremitting assiduity to give a polish to his verses that should entitle them to meet the eye of criticism. Mr. Beattie in this respect soon realised the most sanguine wishes of his friends. The publi ation however of his poems was delayed for the present, in consequence of a presentation to the vacant Professorship of Moral Philosophy and Logic, in the Marischal College; this he obtained through the interest of the Earl of Erroll, and the late Duke of Argyle, who at that time had the nomination to almost every office in Scotland under patronage of the crown.
In 1761 appeared a small volume of Juvenile Poems and Translations, by James Beattie, M.A. several of which had been long known to the public, under different signatures, in a periodical publication called the Scotts Magazine; and in the following year, his Essay on Poetry and Music; which was delivered before the Literary Society of Aberdeen. This essay is admirably, calculated to initiate youth
into the general principles of criticism, and is undoubtedly one of the best treatises of the kind in the English language; the remarks on Music are exceedingly ingenious and interesting, and discover a thorough acquaintance both with the theory and practice of that art.
After being thirty years a batchelor, and six a professor, Mr. Beattie in the year 1766, married Miss Mary Dun, a beautiful and accomplished woman, daughter of Dr. James Dun, nearly seventy years master of the grammar school at Aberdeen; by her he had several children, all of whom their father unfortunately survived. About this time Mr. Beattie planned, and soon after published, his celebrated answer to David Hume, entitled, An Essay on the Immutability of Truth; this is one of the most elegant, argumentative, and philosophical essays that ever appeared in any language. That immense fabric of sophistry and scepticism, reared by Berkeley and Hume, but of which Descartes and Locke had laid the foundation, now rose in all its splendor, and threatened to overwhelm that religion, which has been established on a basis of four thousand years experience; doubt was to be introduced into every branch of physics, metaphysics, history, ethics, and theology. It required the pen of a Beattie, and the eloquence of Truth to refute so attractive an error his deep mind and extensive erudition, saw at once what dreadful consequences followed the doctrine of Ideas, and its baneful tendency on every class of the community ; his indignation was roused, and his sympathy excited for those, who robbed of their religious hopes, are left abandoned to the wretchedness of unbelief! “ Let them know," says this eloquent writer, “ that in the solitary scenes of life there is many an honest and tender heart pining with incurable anguish, pierced with the sharpest sting of dis. appointment, bereft of friends, chilled with poverty, racked with disease, scourged by the oppressor, whom othing but trust in Providence, and the hope of a