1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. Alexander Gerard

Alexander Bower, in An Account of the Life of James Beattie (1804); St. James's Chronicle (4 September 1804).



Dr. Alexander Gerard, whose name I mentioned last, was unquestionably a most excellent philosopher. His father had been Minister of the Chapel of Garioch, a remote parish in Aberdeenshire, where the Doctor was born. His mother thought proper to reside in Aberdeen after the death of her husband. On the 14th July, 1752, Dr. Gerard was admitted a member of Marischal College in room of professor David Fordyce, who perished in a storm at sea when he was returning home from his travels. During the session of 1753-4, in conjunction with professor Duncan, he taught the class of natural and experimental philosophy. On the 24th May, 1759, he was chosen, on the death of Dr. Pollock, professor of divinity in the same university, and consequently one of the ministers of Aberdeen. In the same year, with the permission of the Edinburgh Society for encouragement of arts, sciences, manufactures, and agriculture, Dr. Gerard offered a gold medal for the best dissertation on style in composition, he himself having gained the premium, in the year 1756, for the best essay on taste. In the year 1773, he became professor of divinity in King's College, Aberdeen.

Gerard's regularity and distinctness in every thing he had to do were astonishing. If he had any public appearance to make he was never unprepared. It is to him that Beattie alludes, Essays on Memory and Imagination, pp. 51, 52, 53, when he says, "that by two hours application he could fix a sermon in his mind so effectually as to be able to recite it in public without the change, omission, or transposition of the smallest word." His Essays on Taste and Genius are well known. Beattie's opinion of his master is to be seen in p. 146 of the same essay quoted above.

What the plan of Gerard's course of lectures on moral philosophy and logic was I am unable to say. It is probable that in its general outline it did not differ much from that of Dr. Beattie. It is certain that when Beattie succeeded to the professorship he was favoured with Gerard's manuscripts. Owing to the short time that intervened between his being appointed a professor, and his being obliged to undertake the duties thereof, it was impossible that he could have discharged these by any other means. Beattie however did not pace sluggishly in the footsteps of his predecessor, but like a philosopher and a man of genius thought for himself, adopted his own arrangement, and invented his own illustrations; the only course by which he could either improve himself, or interest effectually the students that attended him.

Gerard's Essay on Taste was written while he was a professor. From this it is very plain that he had paid great attention to such kind of disquisitions. Further I cannot affirm. It would be desirable however to know more, as it is intimately connected with Beattie's History. Some light might thus be thrown on his early years, and it might furnish us with the means by which his favourite studies could be unfolded. One curious circumstance we learn from Beattie himself, which is not altogether unconnected with this subject. In the preface to an edition of the Essay on Truth, published in the year 1776, we are informed that "he knew nothing of Mr. Hume's writings till within the last eighteen years." He surely must have heard something of Hume's system of philosophy from Dr. Gerard, otherwise the course must have been more superficial than one would have expected from a man of Gerard's talents and industry. And besides, even in England, several authors of highly literary reputation (Dr. Hurd, &c.) had animadverted upon some of the opinions of that very uncommon man before the year 1758.