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LIFE OF BEATTIE.
The subject of the present memoir was born in 1735, at Lawrence Kirk in the county of Kincardine. His father seems to have been a person in many respects superior to his rank in life. Though only the tenant of an inconsiderable farm, and consequently filling a station in society very little lavourable to the cultivation of a taste for literature, he is said to have possessed a fondness for books, and to have exhibited a decided talent for poetical composition. Young Beattie was not yet ten years old when his father died: but they who know how soon the first impulse is given to the mind; how deeply every early impression is stamped upon the character; and how tenaciously the good and evil of the parent cling about the child, may, perhaps, be inclined to attribute somewhat of the ceJebrity of the man to the example and the instructions which were presented to the opening geriTUA A ■&<*>***
After the loss of this invaluable parent, our poet found a kind and fatherly C" tector in his elder brother; who placed him at a school in his native place, and continued him there, under a tutor of the name ol Milne, till, in 1749, he obtain* d a birf-aiy a tl* Marischal College, Aberdeen. This exhibition, which is said to have been the best in the university, did not produce him more than five pounds a-year. Beattie was not more distinguished for his diligent attention to the studies of the place, than for the moral propriety of his conduct. In this period of his life he laid t e foundation of that various and useful learning which he afterward brought forward so effectively in the course of his literary life. The only science from which he was averse was the mathematics. In this he attained no extraordinary proficiency. He scrupulously performed all that was required of him by the regulations of the college; but it was by an effort of duty, not an impulse of inclination. It presented him with "all the labour and none of the sweets of study; and after the appointed task was completed, he returned with redoubled eager ness to subjects which were more in unison with the ardour of his affections and the liveliness of his imagination. His exemplary conduct, and the decided marks of ability that he displayed in the course of his college life, secured to him the favour of the Professors Blackwell and Gerard, under whose instruction he more immediately fell from his situation in the university. In 1750 he obtained, the premium for the best Greek analysis of the fourth book of the Odyssey, and, after completing the appointed course of study, he was, in 1753, graduated as Master of Arts, which in the Scotch universities is the first degree conferred.
Immediately on his leaving college he was appointed master of the school of Fordoun, the parish adjoining Lawrence-Kirk. While in this obscure and humble situat on, he published in the Scottish Magazine, a few pieces of poetry.
These productions, though marked by very slight indications of the talent which their author subsequentlydisplayed, obtained him some local fame, and were the means of making him known as a meritorious and ingenious young man to Mr. Garden, an eminent Scottish lawyer, and to the celebrated Lord Monboddo. By these his first patrons Beattie was introduced to the tables of the gentry of his immediate neighbourhood, and was received with kindness and consideration in those higher classes of society, to which it is very unusual for the parochial schoolmaster to obtain the honour of admittance.
Beattie had not been master of the school of Fordoun above four years, when lie became candidate for the mastership of the high school of Aberdeen; but failed in his application. It is said that his successful competitor was his superior in the minutiae of the Latin grammar. His reputation for scholarship did not, however, appear to have been in any degree compromised by his defeat; and in the next vacancy he was elected by the magistrates without any second examinations having been required.
This appointment was rather desirable to Beattie, on account of its placing him in the midst of a literary society, and affording him an easy access to books, than from the prospect of its pecuniary emoluments. He had not been long in. possession of this situation when he committed his first volume of poems to the press. They were admired by hi* iriends and much praised by the English Reviews; but they did not satisfy the matured taste and judgment of their author. He, indeed, formed a correct estimation of its merits. It was decidedly unworthy his abilities; and was not calculated to increase the reputation, which he had, even in that early period of his life, acquired for talent and accomplishment. With the exception of four short poems, which, after considerable correction, he was induced to admit among the number of his poetical works, he was solicitous to erase every trace of these early effusions from the public mind. He bought up every copy of the volume which he had an opportunity of procuring; and seemed to consider the publication of it as so discreditable a stain on the fair and brilliant page of his literary life, that he is reported never to have informed his children of the existence of this his first, juvenile, and renounced production.
In the same year with the appearance of the above mentioned work, 1761, he was appointed, by the king's patent, professor of philosophy to the university- His department embraced both moral philosophy and logic, and it acquired a peculiar interest in the mind of Beattie, from its conferring on him the task of delivering the last course of instruction which the pupils received in the university, previous to their exchanging the tranquil studies of their college for the active competitions of the world. This preferment was sudden and unexpected; and, at the age of twenty five, he began to deliver to his pupils a course of lectures on those vast, important, and comprehensive subjects, which only the greatest minds are capable of entertaining in all their bearings and relations, and which, of all others, require the greatest vigour, and animation, and liveliness of style to render them striking and attractive. It is evident, however, that these topics had long been familiar with his thoughts, that he brought to the professor's chair a rich store of information, which might readily be wrought and moulded to the required purpose: and such was the diligence of his application, that, in the period of a very few years, he not only completed such a course of lectures on moral philosophy and logic, as most richly answered the splendid expectations which his friends and patrons had formed of his abilities; but prepared those invaluable works by which the name of Beattie would rank among the highest class of prose writers, though it had never been distinguished on the list of poets.
]n 1785 he produced a poem entitled ' The Judgment of Paris/ It is found in the * Scottish Magazine;' and is, perhaps, as well worthy of revival as some of his minor pieces. His friend and biographer, Sir William Forbes, has thought fit not to include this effort of his muse in the collection of his works. The subsequent year was marked by the publication of some lines ' On the Proposal for erecting a Monument to Churchill, in Westminster Abbey/ They have neither beauty nor 1 dignity to recommend them; and are disgraced by an unredeemed bitterness of feeling and expression, which it was not generous to exercise against the dead. Churchill was a bad man, and a dishonour to the church of which he was a minister. If virtue had been essential to securing him a memorial among the distinguished characters whose names live on the venerable walls of Westminster, his advocates would have found themselves destitute of any just pretence for his admission •, but that distinction has been conferred on talent, without any reference to morals; to the celebrity of genius, and not to purity of life; and the friends of Churchill might without presumption have conceived that he merited by the force and energy of his verses, an honour merely literary, which had been conferred on many who were as much his inferiors in intellectual power as they surpassed him in profaneness and debauchery. That Beattie should have thought it right to resist the proposition, cannot be considered a matter of surprise. It is well to render the highest honours that the living can bestow upon the dead, as pure in their distribution as they are likely to be eagerly desired, to circumscribe their application, to confer them only upon those who have exhibited the union of talent and virtue; and thus, as it were, by sanctifying the recompenses of ambition, to ensure the wise and salutary direction of those endowments of which the candidates for such distinctions may be possessed. But there were other ways of uttering his remonstrances, besides the satirizing the memory of one who had been sufficiently punished for the intemperance of his life, and the virulence of his writings, in the poverty, the disease, the failure of ability, and the ignominy that awaited his decline of days; and Beattie should not have outraged the gentleness of his own character to libel the libeller; and to imitate one of the weightiest crimes of Churchill, under the pretence of visiting it with chastisement which was its due. These lines were also very wisely rejected by Sir William Forbes •, for why retain that which it is not creditable to have written, and not interesting to read?
In 1770, the celebrated * Essay on Truth/ was first presented to the public. It was written with a view to ascertain the standard of truth, and explain its immutability. It was his object to shew that his opinions, however contrary to the genius of scepticism, and inconsistent with the principles and the practice of infidel writers, were agreeable with the genius of true philosophy, and the principles and practice of those who are on all hands acknowledged to have been most successful in the pursuit of truth. He concludes by laying down the rules by which the fallacies of the infidel philosophy may be detected by every person of common sense, though he may not possess that acuteness of metaphysical knowledge, which might fit him for the refutation of such errors. This essay met with the highest possible success; it was translated into several foreign languages: its author was presented with an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the university of Oxford. He was, on his arrival in England, introduced to the first literary society of the metropolis, and received as the friend of Burke, of Porteus, of Johnson, and of all that renowned fraternity of genius, by which the time was so pre-eminently distinguished. He was honoured by an interview with his sovereign, from whom he received the warmest tribute of admiration, and a pension of two hundred a year; and he was requested by Sir Joshua Reynolds to sit for his portrait, in which that celebrated painter has mingled the highest eulogy of his subject with the most splendid exhibition of his