1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

George Chalmers

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:560-61.



GEORGE CHALMERS was born at Fochabers, in Scotland, towards the end of the year 1742. He received the rudiments of education at the grammar-school of his native town, and was afterwards sent to King's College, Aberdeen, whence he removed to Edinburgh, and studied law for several years. In 1763, he accompanied his uncle to America, for the purpose of giving him legal assistance in the recovery of a large tract of land at Maryland; and was induced to practise his profession at Baltimore, where he, in a few years, acquired an extensive and profitable business. His prospects, however, were completely destroyed by the breaking out of the American revolution; and, in 1775, he came to England, not one of the least suffering loyalists. Without receiving any compensation for his losses, he applied himself to the first of his literary undertakings, which appeared in 1790, entitled Political Annals of the Present United Colonies, from their Settlement to the Peace of 1763, compiled chiefly from Records, and authorized often by the insertion of State Papers. This was succeeded by An Introduction to the History of the Revolt of the Colonies; Estimate of the Comparative Strength of Great Britain during the Present and Four Preceding Reigns, which went through several editions, and was translated into French and German; Opinions on Interesting Subjects of Public Law and Commercial Policy, arising from American Independence; and Three Tracts on Irish Arrangements. In August, 1786, he was appointed chief clerk to the board of trade; and, for the next forty years, continued to publish a variety of works, of which the principal are, Church-yard Chips concerning Scotland; Life of Mary, Queen of Scots; Political Works of Sir David Lyndsay; Life of Ruddiman; and his Caledonia, in three volumes, quarto. This last, as well as several others, he, unfortunately, did not live to complete; dying whilst the fourth volume was in progress, in May, 1825. As an author Mr. Chalmers will never be known to posterity by any other work than his Caledonia; which, with all its defects, says his biographer in The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, is one "which a person of greater genius or scholarship would not have undertaken, and one which a mere plodding antiquary would not have performed." Its chief faults are a want of skill in the condensation of his materials, and an affectation of style totally inconsistent with the subject. The matter is truly valuable and original, and no source seems to have been overlooked in his investigations after truth. His other publications, and particularly his controversial writings, have not gained more than temporary celebrity; an arrogant and dogmatic tone pervades them, neither warranted by their own intrinsic merit, nor the station of his antagonists, among whom were Malone and Steevens, Dr. Pinkerton, Dr. Currie, and others of equal eminence.