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A BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY of eminent natives of Scotland has been regarded as a desideratum in our national literature, for the greater part of a century. Such a work was successively contemplated by Sir David Dalrymple and Mr William Smellie, each of whom proceeded so far with the design as to write a few of the articles. When the editor of the present work began a few years ago to inquire into the literary and historical antiquities of his country, he found the desire of possessing a dictionary of this kind not in the least abated, but very little hope entertained that, under the existing prospects of literature, it would be possible to present such a book to the public. He proceeded, nevertheless, perhaps rather under the influence of a peculiar enthusiasm, than any wiser or more considerate motive, to take upon himself a task which at least two of his predecessors had failed to accomplish, and for which he could not but feel himself to be in many respects imperfectly qualified. Sometime after beginning his labours, a fortunate alliance with his present publishers, who had projected a similar work, removed many of the original difficulties, and he was enabled to commence the publication in 1832.
In now taking a retrospective view of his labours, he sees, with some regret, passages which he could amend, and even one or two articles which, upon a more rigid estimate of merit, he would be disposed to omit. He has much satisfaction, however, in reflecting that very few instances of error in point of fact have been indicated to him; so that he is enabled to hope that his work, upon the whole, makes that near approach to correctness, which is the most valuable feature in a book of reference.
With regard to one very important point in the composition of the work, he trusts he may be permitted to hazard an observation. Of the many hundreds of persons whom he has commemorated, there are men of all denominations, religious and political, and even some who were the direct antagonists of each other, either in controversy or in civil war. He is aware that the most of writers, under his circumstances, would have felt it to be a duty, wherever there was occasion to allude to points of controversy, to express their own
views, and adjust the estimate of every character by a reference to certain standards erected in their own minds. Such the present editor did not feel to be his duty. Considering that there can hardly be a Scottish Biographical Dictionary on each side of the great questions, and, furthermore, disposed to such a course by a sincere though humble desire to take a mild view of the opinions and proceedings of all honourable men, he studied, on the contrary, to confine himself to a simple representation of the prepossessions of the various individuals under his notice, even to the extent, occasionally, of what may appear a tenderness, or perhaps something more, for the opinions of various opposite thinkers, and the deeds of various contending partisans. Such a method of memoir-writing may expose him to some degree of censure, in an age characterized so much as the present by party heats; but he trusts that it is the course which will be most approved of by those who may chance to consult his pages in future times, when it is to be hoped that the most of the now existing controversies will only be matter of historical curiosity.
While he experiences a natural, and, he hopes, allowable satisfaction in thus bringing to a close the greatest literary undertaking of his life, he cannot suppress a simultaneous feeling of regret at observing, throughout his volumes, the names of so many men who, at the time he commenced his undertaking, seemed little likely to go so soon through that solemn change which was to fit them for commemoration in his pages. Some of these he had the pleasure of considering as his friends; and the pain with which he found himself called upon to narrate their biography, was proportionally great. Even in such a matter as this, humanity may read a touching lesson of the frailty and uncertainty of all that here belongs to it.
He cannot conclude without gratefully acknowledging the kindness of many eminent and respectable individuals, in supplying him with the information which he required, and also the zeal and talent displayed by various gentlemen in assisting him in the details of the work.
Anne Street, Edinburgh;
ABERCROMBY, ALEXANDER, an elegant occasional writer of the latter part of the eighteenth century, was the youngest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, and the brother of the celebrated Sir Ralph Abercromby, He was born on the 15th of October, 1745. While the elder sons of the laird of Tullibody were destined for the army, Alexander chose the profession of the law, which was more consistent with his gentle and studious character. After going through the ordinary course of classes at the university of Edinburgh, he became, in 1766, a member of the Faculty of Advocates; in which character he soon distinguished himself. He was at this early period of his life the favourite of all who knew him, not only for the uncommon handsomeness of his person, but for the extreme sweetness of his disposition, and what his biographer calls "a certain gaiety and sportfulness of mind, which, in a character of less native vigour and ability, might have been fatal to the future prospects of his life." In 1780 he became one of the depute advocates, under Henry Dundas, (afterwards Viscount Melville,) who was then the representative of Majesty for the management of criminal prosecutions before the court of Justiciary. He was taken, in 1792, from an excellent course of practice at the bar, to assume a place upon the bench; on which occasion, in compliance with the custom of the Scottish judges, he adopted the title of Lord Abercromby. His literary performances and character are thus summed by his friend Henry Mackenzie, who, after his death, undertook the task of recording his virtues and merits for the Royal Society. "The laborious employments of his profession did not so entirely engross him, as to preclude his indulging in the elegant amusements of polite literature. He was one of that society of gentlemen, who, in 1779, set on foot the periodical paper, published at Edinburgh during that and the subsequent year, under the title of the Mirror, and who afterwards gave to the world another work of a similar kind, the Lounger, published in 1785 and 1786. To these papers he was a very valuable contributor, being the author of ten papers in the Mirror,' and nine in the Lounger." His papers are distinguished by an ease and gentlemanlike turn of expression, by a delicate and polished irony, by a strain of manly, honourable, and virtuous sentiment." Mr Mackenzie acknowledges that they are also characterized by an unaffected tenderness, which he had displayed even in his speeches as a barrister, and adduces a specimen which we shall extract
2 Nos. 3, 10, 14, 23, 30, 47, 74, 81, 91.
Nos. 4, 9, 18, 45, 51, 57, 65, 68, 87, 90, 104.
"There is one circumstance," says Mr Abercromby, in debating whether long or short life be most desirable, "which with me is alone sufficient to decide the question. If there be any thing that can compensate the unavoidable evils with which this life is attended, and the numberless calamities to which mankind are subject, it is the pleasure arising from the society of those we love and esteem. Friendship is the cordial of life. Without it, who would wish to exist an hour? But every one who arrives at extreme old age, must make his account with surviving the greater part, perhaps the whole, of his friends. He must see them fall from him by degrees, while he is left alone, single and unsupported, like a leafless trunk, exposed to every storm, and shrinking from every blast." Such was not destined to be the fate of Lord Abercromby, who, after exemplifying almost every virtue, and acting for some years in a public situation with the undivided applause of the world, was cut off by a pulmonary complaint, at Falmouth, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, November 17, 1795.
ABERCROMBY, JOHN, whom Dempster supposes to have been a Benedictine monk, flourished about the middle of the sixteenth century. He was a most vigorous defender of the ancient faith of Rome against the doctrines of the Reformers, and wrote two treatises, one entitled, “Veritatis Defensio," the other, "Hæresis Confusio."
ABERCROMBY, JOHN, whose works on gardening have attained for him a considerable fame, was the son of a respectable gardener near Edinburgh, where he was born about the year 1726. Having been bred by his father to his own profession, he removed to London at the early age of eighteen, and became a workman in the gardens attached to the royal palaces. Here he distinguished himself so much by his taste in laying out grounds, that he was encouraged to write upon the subject. His first work, however, was published with the name of a more eminent horticulturist, Mr Mawe, gardener to the Duke of Leeds, in order to give it a weight which it could not have been expected to carry under his own name; and for this liberty, Mr Mawe was rewarded with the sum of twenty guineas. The work was published under the title of "Mawe's Gardener's Calendar," and it quickly gained notice and approbation. Encouraged by the success of this effort, Abercromby afterwards published, under his own name, "The Universal Dictionary of Gardening and Botany," in 4to.; which was followed, in succession, by the Gardener's Dictionary, the Gardener's Daily Assistant, the Gardener's Vade Mecum, the Kitchen Gardener and Hot-bed Forcer, the Hot-house Gardener, &c. the most of which were popular productions. Abercromby, after a life of eminent usefulness and virtue, died at London in 1806, aged about eighty years.
ABERCROMBY, PATRICK, historian, was the third son of Alexander Abercromby of Fetterneir in Aberdeenshire, a branch of the house of Birkenbog in Banffshire, which again derived its descent from Abercromby of Abercromby in Fife. Francis, the eldest son of Abercromby of Fetterneir, was created Lord Glassford in 1685; but, as the patent, by an extraordinary restriction, was limited to his own life only, the title did not descend to his children. Patrick Abercromby was born at Forfar in 1656, and was educated at the university of St Andrews, where he took the degree of doctor in medicine in 1685. His family being eminently loyal, the young physician is said to have consented to change his religion, to please James VII., who consequently made him one of the physicians of the court. A proceeding so adverse to all natural ideas of propriety, though perhaps excused in some degree by excess of loyal feeling and the temper of the times, was speedily and severely punished; for, at the Revolution, Abercromby, and all other friends of the exiled monarch, were deprived of their places. For some years after this event, Dr Abercromby appears to have lived abroad;