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LIFE OF JAMES BEATTIE, LLD.
By J. S. GIBB.
JAMES BEATTIE, the author of "The Minstrel,” was baptized at Laurencekirk, November 25, 1735, ten years before the thunder-cloud of war swept across Scotland, to dissolve in blood on the desolate heath of Culloden. His father, also bearing the name of James, had a small retail shop in Laurencekirk—at that time, and for thirty years after, merely a clachan or kirktown of six or seven houses. In addition to the shop, he rented Boroughmuir Hills, a small farm to the south-east of the village. By the united aid of these he strove to rear his family of six children, of whom James was the youngest, in that system of healthful domestic training, to which, in Scotland, the youth of a former age owed so much. In these efforts he was ably seconded by his wife, Jane Watson, who is said to have been a woman of informed and cultivated mind beyond the common. Indeed Beattie was fortunate in both his parents. father," says the writer of the article “Beattie” in the “Biographie Universelle," " was a simple farmer, but that did not hinder him from indulging a natural taste which he felt for poesy : they preserve yet in his family some pieces of verse of his composition.” This was written in 1811. In the life of Alexander Ross, schoolmaster of Lochlee in
Forfarshire, prefixed to the edition of his “Helenore; or, The Fortunate Shepherdess," published in 1812, his biographer, the Rev. Alexander Thomson of Lintrathen, remarks : “Mr Ross has often said that Mr Beattie only wanted education to have made him as much distinguished in the literary world as his son. He was a man of great natural acuteness, of clear and distinct conception, and employed much of his time in reading. He knew something of natural philosophy, and particularly of astronomy, and used to amuse himself in calculating eclipses; and our author has observed that, as he was self-taught, without the advantage of any man's instruction, his knowledge was truly surprising. He was likewise a poetical genius, and shewed our author some rhymes of considerable merit. In fact it would appear that his mind wanted nothing but cultivation to have raised him to a level with some philosophers and poets, whose merit must always be acknowledged by those who are proper judges of it.”
Such is Ross's testimony concerning the elder Beattie; and he was well qualified to give it, from the intercourse he had enjoyed with him, having for some time previous to 1726 been master of the parish school of Laurencekirk, only a hundred yards or so from Boroughmuir Hills, where the subject of the present memoir was born. And here, in passing, we cannot help remarking that Laurencekirk has been more favoured as the birthplace or residence of men who have won themselves a name by their intellectual acquirements, than many localities far more imposing in appearance. There is its founder, Lord Gardenstone, of whom the burgh may justly be proud. The celebrated Thomas Ruddimanı, in February 1695, left his tutorship at Aldbar to become her parish schoolmaster. As we have seen, in 1726 the author of “The Fortunate Shepherdess,” filled the same situation. Dr Beattie was born here in 1735. Dr George Cook, author of
“History of the Church of Scotland," was her minister from 1795 to 1828. And here, five years before this latter date,
—that is, in 1823,--George Menzies drove the shuttle and nursed those thoughts which he afterwards embodied in sounding verse, or brought to bear on the successful prosecution of his duties as editor of a Canadian newspaper.
But to return to our more immediate subject. Of the early boyhood of Beattie we know little except what he has told us himself in his works. He was shy, retiring, fond of nature and solitude, given to reading, and even while at school known by the name of the POET. The rudiments of his education he obtained at the parish school, then taught by James Milne, who had deservedly attained considerable reputation as an educator. Beattie lost his father when only seven years of age; but this loss was, as far as it could be, made up by the increased assiduity and care of his mother, and of his elder brother David, who did everything that affection could do to enable the young student to gratify to the full his love of learning and knowledge,
--a kindness Beattie did not forget in after-years, when it was in his power to repay it, as far as such self-sacrificing affection could be repaid.
In 1749, James, then fourteen years of age, was escorted to Aberdeen by his brother David. There were no railways nor even stage-coaches then, and the two brothers set out from home with only one steed between them, and so behoved to walk by turns or ride double. The journey was performed in safety, and James was entered a student of Marischal College, which at that time could boast the name of Dr Blackwell as one of her professors. At the termination of his first session as a student, Beattie proved his powers and diligence, by gaining, as the result of a public competition, the first or highest class bursary attached to his college. This, of course, was a considerable relief to the home funds, as the amount of the bursary would at least suffice for his most pressing wants during the college session. The recess he would spend at home, where the burden of his sustenance would not be severely felt. Beattie continued at