1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Beattie

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 4 (July 1783) 51-52.



James Beattie was born in the county of Kincardine, in Scotland. Having studied at Aberdeen, he became a school-master, first at Alloa, in Fifeshare, and afterwards in his own native province. Thence he went to Aberdeen, to assist as an usher in the grammar-school of that place. When he was in this station, he wrote his Minstrel, and married the schoolmaster's daughter. He was promoted to a professorship in the Marishal College, through the favour of the noble and antient family of Errol. Mr. Hume having made a severe, and, in truth, in our opinion, an unjust criticism on Beattie's poems, the poet determined to take his revenge in the shape of a Christian philosopher, who had penetrated the sophistry, and was deeply alarmed at the consequences of his reasonings. The Essay on the Immutability of Truth conciliated to the author the friendship of Dr. Gregory, of Edinburgh, Mrs. Montague, the authoress, Lord Lyttelton, with that of many dignitaries of the English Church, particularly Dr. Hurd, and Dr. Porteus, with whom he lodges when he comes to town. He is also very much in the good graces of Lord Mansfield. He affects to say that he never conversed with any person who had conceived so clear and just ideas of his philosophy, as that noble Lord. Lord Mansfield entertains an idea that Mr. Andrew Stuart, in the letters he wrote to his Lordship, was assisted by Mr. Hume.

It was at first debated among the pious friends of Dr. Beattie, whether he should not be introduced into the Church of England, that he might have an opportunity of rising to a bishoprick, and from that elevation, of defending, with the greater advantage, the doctrines of Christianity. But it was considered that the apologies of clergymen come rather with a suspicious aspect, as the establishment of Christianity is that on which all their fortune and consequence in the world depend. It was therefore agreed that he should be recommended to the King for a pension of 200 which he easily obtained: and it was understood, that thus pensioned, he should lie on the watch, and confute every sceptical and profane opinion that should after all that he had written, dare to start up in the world.

Dr. Beattie has a fine taste, and is no contemptible practiser in music. He is of a middling size, of a pleasing aspect, and displays in his countenance all the tenderness and vivacity of the poet. He is much beloved and esteemed by those that know him.