1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Francis Garden

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 15:270-72.



FRANCIS GARDEN, better known to the public by the title of LORD GARDENSTONE, was born at Edinburgh June 24, 1721. His father was Alexander Garden, of Troup, an opulent land-holder in Aberdeenshire; and his mother was Jane, daughter of sir Francis Grant, of Cullen, one of the senators of the college of justice. After passing through the usual course of liberal education at school and at the university, he applied to the study of law as a profession, and in 1744 was admitted a member of the faculty of advocates, and called to the Scottish bar. In his practice as an advocate he soon began to be distinguished by a strong native rectitude of understanding; by that vivacity of apprehension and imagination, which is commonly denominated genius; by manly candour in argument, often more persuasive than subtilty and sophistical artifice; by powers which, with diligence, might easily attain to the highest eminence of the profession. But the same strength, openness, and ardour of mind which distinguished him so advantageously among the pleaders at the bar, tended to give him a fondness for the gay enjoyments of convivial intercourse, which was in some respects unfavourable to his progress in juridical erudition, yet without obstructing those promotions to which his talents entitled him. In 1764 he became his majesty's solicitor, and afterwards one of the judges in the courts of session and justiciary, the supreme judicatures, civil and criminal, for Scotland. On this occasion he assumed, according to the usual practice, the title of lord Gardenstone. His place in the court of session he continued to occupy till his death, but had some years before resigned the office of a commissioner of justiciary, and in recompense got a pension of £200 per annum. Clear discernment, strong good sense, conscientious honesty, and amiable benevolence, remarkably distinguished his opinions and conduct as a judge.

As he advanced in years, humanity, taste, and public spirit, became still more eminently the predominant principles in his mind. He pitied the condition of the peasantry, depressed rather by their ignorance of the most skilful modes of labour, and by their remoteness from the sphere of improvement, than by any tyranny or extortion of their landlords. He admired, protected, and cultvated the fine arts. He was the ardent votary of political liberty, and friendly to every thing that promised a rational amelioration of public oeconomy, and the principles of government. In 1762 he purchased the estate of Johnston, co. Kincardine. Within a few years after he began to attempt a plan of the most liberal improvement of the value of this estate, by an extension of the village of Laurencekirk, adjoining. He offered leases of small farms, and of ground for building upon, which were to last for the term of one hundred years; and of which the conditions were extremely inviting to the labourers and tradesmen of the surrounding country. These offers were eagerly listened to; and being more desirous to make the attempt beneficial to the country than profitable to himself, he was induced within a few years to reduce his ground-rents to one half of the original rate. Weavers, joiners, shoemakers, and other artizans in a considerable number, resorted to settle in the rising village. His lordship's earnestness for the success of his project, and to promote the prosperity of the people whom he had received under his protection, led him to engage in several undertakings, by the failure of which he incurred considerable losses. Projects of a print-field, and of manufactures of linen and of stockings, attempted with sanguine hopes in the new village, and chiefly at his lordship's risk and expence, misgave in such a manner as might well have dispirited a man of less steady and ardent philanthropy. But the village still continued to advance under his lordship's eye and fostering care. In 1779 he procured it to be erected into a burgh of barony, having a magistracy, an annual fair, and a weekly market. He provided in it a good inn for the reception of travellers, and furnished it with a library for their amusement, the only one of the kind probably in either kingdom. We remember, likewise, an Album, in which were many ingenious contributions, both in prose and verse, by the literati of Scotland. He invited an artist for drawing, from the continent, to settle at Laurencekirk. He had at length the pleasure of seeing a considerable linen-manufactory fixed in it; and before his death he saw his plan of improving the condition of the labourers, by the formation of a new village at Laurencekirk, crowned with success beyond his most sanguine hopes. He has acknowledged in a memoir concerning this village, "That he had tried in some measure a variety of the pleasures which mankind pursue; but never relished any so much as the pleasure arising from the progress of his village."

In 1785, by the death of a brother, he became possessed of the family estates, worth about £3000 a year, which not only enabled him to pursue his usual course of liberality, but to seek relief from the growing infirmities of his age, by a partial relaxation from business, which he determined to employ in travel. Accordingly, he set out in Sept. 1786, and performed the tour of France, Geneva, Swisseriand, the Netherlands, and Italy; and after three years, returned to his native country, with a large collection of objects of natural history, and specimens of the fine arts. His last years were spent in the discharge of the duties of his office as a judge; in performing many generous offices of benevolence and humanity, and in promoting the comfort of his tenants. As an amusement for the last two or three years of his life, he revised some of the light fugitive pieces, in which he had indulged the gaiety of his fancy in his earlier days; and a small volume was published under the title of "Miscellanies in prose and verse," in which the best pieces are upon good authority ascribed to lord Gardenstone. He revised also the "Memorandums" which he. had made upon his travels, and two volumes of them were published during his lifetime, under the title of "Travelling Memorandums," containing a number of interesting observations, criticisms, and anecdotes. A third volume appeared after his death, with an account of him, from which we have borrowed the greater part of this article. His lordship died July 22, 1793, deeply regretted by his friends and by his country. His last publication was "A Letter to the Inhabitants of Laurencekirk," containing much salutary advice.