1842 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Russell

C. H. Timperley, in Encyclopaedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote (1842) 2:782.



1793, Dec. 2. Died, WILLIAM RUSSELL, a historical and miscellaneous writer, and author of the History of Modern Europe, five vols. 8vo. which has ever since its appearance been reckoned the best and most convenient work on the subject which it treats. William Russell was born at Windydoors, in the county of Selkirk, in Scotland, in the year 1741. He received the early part of his education at Innerleithen, where he acquired a slender knowledge of Latin and Greek, and having removed in 1756, to Edinburgh, he there studied writing and arithmetic for about ten months. He now commenced an apprenticeship of five years, under Messrs. Martin and Wotherspoon, booksellers and printers, during which period he added considerably to his stock of knowledge by private study. In 1763, while working as a journeyman printer, he became a member of a literary association styled the Miscellaneous Society, of which Mr. Andrew Dalzell, afterwards professor of Greek in the Edinburgh university, and Mr. Rt. Liston, afterwards sir Robert, and ambassador at Constantinople, were also members. Not long after he seems to have formed an intimacy with Patrick lord Elibank, who invited him to spend some time at his seat in East Lothian, and encouraged him in the prosecution of a literary career. He therefore relinquished his labours as a printer, and after spending considerable time in study at his father's house in the country, set out, in May 1767, for London. There he was disappointed in his best hopes, and found it necessary to seek subsistence as corrector of the press in the office of William Strahan, which in 1769 he exchanged for the office of overseer in the office of Brown and Aldred. While prosecuting these employments, he published several essays in prose and verse, but without fixing the attention of the world in any eminent degree. His success was nevertheless such as to enable him to relinquish the printing business. In 1780, he went to Jamaica for the purpose of recovering some money left there by a deceased brother. In 1787, he married Miss Scott, and retired to a farm called Knottyholm, near Langholm, where he spent the remainder of his days in an elegant cottage on the banks of the Esk. In 1792, he received the degree of doctor of laws from St. Andrew's, and in the ensuing year published the two first volumes of a History of Ancient Europe; but did not live to complete this undertaking, being cut off by a sudden stroke of palsy. He was buried in he church-yard of Westerkirk, and left a widow and one daughter. Dr. Russell was a man of indefatigable industry. Before he had perfected one scheme another always presented itself to his mind. "Without exhibiting the graces of polished life," says Mr. Chalmers, "he was an agreeable companion, and possessed a considerable fund of general knowledge, and a zeal for literature and genius which approached to enthusiasm. In all his undertakings he was strictly honourable, and deserved the confidence reposed in him by his employers." Among the works of Dr. Russell may be noticed his Sentimental Tales, in 1770. In 1772, a collection of Fables, Moral and Sentimental, and an Essay on the Character, Manners, and Genius of Women, from the French of M. Thomas. Julia, a poetical romance, appeared in 1774; and the History of America, published in numbers, was completed in 1779. In 1783, the Tragic Muse, a poem addressed to Mrs. Siddons.