1803 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Millar

Alexander Carlyle, 1803 ca.; in Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle (1910) 516-18.



As Dr. Wight was not fully established at Glasgow, and had one of his sisters for housekeeper, he was very hospitable and popular, and we met daily several of the Professors, who were able men, and had agreeable conversation, — such as Alexander Stevenson and John Millar. This last had even begun to distinguish himself by his democratical principles, and that sceptical philosophy which young noblemen and gentlemen of legislative rank carried into the world with them from his law-class, and, many years afterwards, particularly at the period of the French Revolution, displayed with popular zeal, to the no small danger of perversion to all under his influence. I had a hint of this from Dr. Wight before 1782, when he died, who added, that though some sound heads might find antidotes to this poison before they went into the world, and see in the British constitution all that is valuable in a democracy, without its defects and faults, yet, as it was connected with lax principles in religion, there might be not a few of such a contexture of understanding as could not be cured. Millar lived to the end of the century.

I met with a strong proof of what is contained in the above paragraph respecting Professor Millar a long time afterwards, when dining with Robert Colt, Esq., then residing at Inveresk. I don't exactly remember the year, but I think it was before the war of 1798. There was nobody with Mr. Colt but a brother-in-law of his, when we were joined by the late Sir Hew Dalrymple of North Berwick, who had dined in Edinburgh. After consenting to stay all night, Sir Hew said, "Colt, was not you a student of law for two years with Millar at Glasgow?" "Yes, I was," answered Mr. Colt. "Then," replied Sir Hew, "I find I am right; and as my Hew has been four years at St. Andrews, and seems now desirous of following the law, I have been advised to send him to Millar, and have come to consult you about it." "We'll talk about that coolly to-morrow morning, Sir Hew; in the mean time, give me your toast." I knew well the meaning of this reserve; and a few days afterwards meeting with Mr. Colt, "Well," said I, "did yo settle your friend Sir Hew's mind about sending his son to Glasgow?" "Yes," answered he, "and you'll hear no more of that project." This Mr. Colt was an able and a worthy man, but he was shy and reserved, and died, unknown but to a few, in the year 1797. He had overcome many disadvantages of his education, for he had been sent to a Jacobite seminary of one Elphinstone at Kensington, where his body was starved, and his mind also. He had hardly a word of Latin, and was obliged to work hard with a private tutor. At Glasgow, to be sure, he learned public law, but too in poison with it, which he had strength of understanding to expel, as well as to overcome many other disadvantages.