John Millar

Anonymous, Obituary in Universal Magazine 110 (June 1802) 427-28.

John Millar, esq. advocate at the Scottish bar, and professor of law in the university of Glasgow, was a man of the highest eminence in the republic of letters. He had filled for nearly forty years the appointment which he held in the university of Glasgow. The primary object of that professorship was, to explain the civil law of the Romans. This he did in two courses of lectures; one upon the Institute of Justinian, that brief and elegant compend of the elements of the law, such as it was actually in force throughout the empire when Justinian sate on the throne; another on the Pandects, that collection of the doctrines of the great Roman lawyers of preceding ages, which Tribonian and his assistants compiled by Justinian's order. In the former of those courses of lectures, Mr. Millar was accustomed to give, first, an explanation of the doctrines of the Institute, in the form of a commentary upon its text; and, secondly, a general view of the natural origin of jurisprudence in the primary character of man and the circumstances of society, with an account of the rise and distinctions of the different municipal institutions under which law has been administered in different countries. He read, at the same time, an annual course of lectures upon government, in which he illustrated the origin and essential principles and distinctions of the various political institutions which have conspicuously prevailed in the world. In the close of this course, he dedicated a considerable number of lectures to the explanation of the history and first principles of the British constitution. He gave, every second year, a series of lectures on the law of Scotland: and to this he had begun, a few years before his death, to add, likewise, a system of lectures on the English law. In these different courses, he taught the science of jurisprudence with a much more copious association of the philosophy of history, than had been hitherto exhibited with it, in the lectures of others. Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, and Voltaire were the authors whose spirit he had caught, and by whose lights he was chiefly guided. The study of law became hence more a favourite with the young men at the university of Glasgow, than it had ever before been. The lectures of Mr. Millar were eagerly attended by almost every student, whatever his professional destination, who felt in any considerable degree the ingenuous impulse of literary and philosophical curiosity. From parts of these islands the most distant from Glasgow, students eagerly resorted to that university with the express purpose of hearing Mr. Millar. Glasgow not being the seat of the supreme courts of justice for Scotland, possessed few advantages in comparison with Edinburgh, for initiation in the practice of the law of Scotland. Yet, the reputation of Mr. Millar, as a teacher of jurisprudence, had power to draw every young man intending to practise at the bar, to spend a year or two at Glasgow in order to have the advantage of his instructions. From England, many young men of distinction were sent expressly with the same views. Several gentlemen who have since become eminent as political and parliamentary leaders, first cultivated their in the study of policies under professor Millar. In the year 1771, he published An Enquiry into those Causes in the Nature and Circumstances of Man in Society, which give rise to the Distinction of Ranks. It was a beautiful association of the most curious historical facts with the most ingenious philosophical deductions. By the public it was received with highly flattering attention and respect. In 1787, he gave to the world, a work of greater labour, An Historical View of the English Constitution, from the Era of the Establishment of the Anglo-Saxons in this Island to that of the Accession of the House of Stewart to the English Throne. The deductions in that work are interesting and ingenious: the views which it presents are all drawn in the spirit of whiggism, and highly favourable to liberty. A second volume was to continue that history down to the present time. A considerable part of the continuation was written before his death; but it has been left unfinished. He left his family in easy circumstances of fortune. He died at his country seat of Millheugh, on the 30th of April 1801.