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Each fervid sigh seem'd shorter than the last,
-Sylphs! while your winnowing pinions fann'd the
And shed gay visions o'er the sleeping pair;
JAMES BEATTI E.
BORN 1735.-DIED 1803.
James BEATTie was born in the parish of Lawrence Kirk, in Kincardineshire, Scotland. His father, who rented a small farm in that parish, died when the poet was only ten years old; but the loss of a protector was happily supplied to him by his elder brother, who kept him at school till he obtained a bursary at the Marischal college, Aberdeen. At that university he took the degree of master of arts; and, at nineteen, he entered on the study of divinity, supporting himself, in the mean time, by teaching a school in the neighbouring parish. Whilst he was in this obscure situation, some pieces of verse, which he transmitted to the Scottish Magazine, gained him a little local celebrity. Mr. Garden, an eminent Scottish lawyer, afterwards Lord Gardenstone, and Lord Monboddo, encouraged him as an ingenious young man, and introduced him to the tables of the neighbouring gentry, an honour not usually extended to a parochial schoolmaster. In 1757, he stood candidate for a mastership of the high-school of Aberdeen. He was foiled by a competitor, whọ surpassed him in the minutiæ of Latin grammar ; but his character, as a scholar, suffered so little by the disappointment, that at the next vacancy he was called to the place without a trial. He had not been long at this school, when he published a volume of poems, in 1761, which it speaks much for the critical clemency of the times) were favourably received, and highly commended in the English Reviews. So little satisfied was the author himself with those early effusions, that, excepting four, which he admitted to a subsequent edition of his works, he was anxious to have them consigned to oblivion; and he destroyed every copy of the volume which he could procure. About the age twenty-six, he obtained the chair of Moral Philosophy, in the Marischal college of Aberdeen, a promotion which he must have owed to his general reputation in literature; but it is singular, that the friend who first proposed to solicit the High Constable of Scotland to obtain this appointment, should have grounded the proposal on the merit of Beattie's poetry. In the volume already mentioned, there can scarcely be said to be a budding promise of genius.
Upon his appointment to this professorship, which he held for forty years, he immediately prepared a
course of lectures for the students; and gradually compiled materials for those prose works, on which his name would rest with considerable reputation, if he were not known as a poet. It is true, that he is not a first-rate metaphysician; and the Scotch, in undervaluing his powers of abstract and close rea, soning, have been disposed to give him less credit than he deserves, as an elegant and amusing writer. But the English, who must be best able to judge of his style, admire it for an ease, familiarity, and an Anglicism, that is not to be found even in the correct and polished diction of Blair. His mode of illustrating abstract questions is fanciful and interesting
In 1765, he published a poem, entitled “ The Judgment of Paris," which his biographer, Sir William Forbes, did not think fit to rank among his works For more obvious reasons Sir William excluded his lines, written in the subsequent year, on the proposal for erecting a monument to Churchill in Westminster Abbeylines which have no beauty or dignity to redeem their bitter expression of hatred. On particular subjects, Beattie's virtuous indignation was apt to be hysterical. Dr. Reid and Dr. Campbell hated the principles of David Hume as sincerely as the author of the Essay en Truth; but they never betrayed more than philosophical hostility, while Beattie used to speak of the propriety of excluding Hume from civil society.
1 It is to be found in the Scottish Magazine; and, if I may judge from an obscure recollection of it, is at least as well worthy of revival as some of his minor pieces.
His reception of Gray, when that poet visited Scotland in 1765, shews the enthusiasm of his literary character in a finer light. Gray's mind was not in poetry only, but in many other respects, peculiarly congenial with his own; and nothing could exceed the cordial and reverential welcome which Beattie gave to his illustrious visitant. In 1770, he published his “ Essay on Truth,” which had a rapid sale, and extensive popularity; and, within a twelvemonth after, the first part of his " Minstrel.” 'The poem appeared, at first, anonymously, but its beauties were immediately and justly appreciated. The second part was not published till 1774. When Gray criticised the Minstrel, he objected to its author, that, after many stanzas, the description went on, and the narrative stopped. Beattie very justly answered to this criticism, that he meant the poem
for description, not for incident. But he seems to have forgotten this proper apology, when he mentions, in one of his letters, his intention of producing Edwin, in some subsequent books, in the character of a warlike bard, inspiring his countrymen to battle, and contributing to repel their invaders. This intention, if he ever seriously entertained it, might have produced some new kind of poem, but would have formed an incongruous counterpart to the piece as it now stands, which, as a picture of